NASA and SpaceX delay May 1 launch, ISS experiments continue

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ISS delays planned May 1 launch of SpaceX resupply rocket
Image: NASA

NASA requested SpaceX postpone its May 1 Dragon launch due to a power glitch at the International Space Station (ISS).

The impending mission marks the private aerospace company’s seventeenth commercial resupply run to the orbiting lab. ISS crew members will continue performing science experiments as they await the next resupply load.

Power Shortage Prompts Delay

NASA reports the space station crew discovered a glitch with one of the station’s Main Bus Switching Units. The unit distributes power to two of the eight ISS power channels.

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Fortunately, the unexpected power shortage poses no safety concerns for ISS crew members. Teams are currently formulating a plan to restore full station power by replacing the failed unit robotically.

ISS Science Experiments Continue

According to NASA, the delayed resupply mission will launch no sooner than May 3. Meanwhile, ISS crew members are continuing ongoing microgravity experiments for a variety of applications.

For example, Flight Engineer David Saint-Jacques recorded journal entries about space life as part of the Behavioral Core Measures Study. He also installed new incubator hardware inside the Space Automated Bioproduct Lab for a Kidney Cells experiment. The new study aims to learn how microgravity and other aspects of space travel affect kidney health.

Crew members also recently welcomed Astrobees to ISS. The free-flying robots are meant to perform routine maintenance tasks to free up astronauts to work on other things. American astronaut Nancy McClain inspected and activated one of the robots to prep it for testing inside Japan’s Kibo lab module.

Finally, Flight Engineer Christina Koch is working on fiber samples in the Microgravity Science Glovebox as part of an engineering study to see if fiber optic cable can be produced in space.

Previous theoretical studies and some limited experimental studies suggest ZBLAN optical fibers produced in a microgravity environment will be of superior quality to those produced on Earth. Further ISS work intends to validate these studies.

Launch Delay Follows Crew Dragon Mishap

Today’s resupply push-back follows a recent mishap with a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule during an engine test firing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The investigation is still pending to determine what caused the explosion, which sent clouds of smoke into the sky.

Members of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel discussed the incident at a meeting last week, CBS reports. At this point, SpaceX is still collecting and analyzing post-failure recorded data, high-speed imagery and recovered hardware.

ASAP Chair Patricia Sanders noted finding answers will take time.

“The investigation will take time before the root cause analysis is completed and will determine the impact to the Demo 2 and the in-flight abort test,” Sanders said.

Future Launch Goals

Despite Dragon test fire issues and today’s launch delay, SpaceX recently hit two important milestones. First, the Crew Dragon successfully launched and docked at ISS. Then, Falcon Heavy completed its first successful mission for a paying customer.

As previously reported, the latter endeavor paved the way for Falcon Heavy to carry more important experiments to space later this year. However, it remains to be seen how Crew Dragon’s anomaly will impact SpaceX and NASA plans for a manned flight in 2019.