Literally. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is raining on Boeing and SpaceX’s manned mission aspirations. That’s according to a new WSJ report. Let’s take a look at SpaceX first.
Investigators with the GAO are raising red flags about the engines in SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket according to the report. Persistent cracking was found in the Falcon 9’s turbine blades and are viewed as a “major threat to rocket safety,” according to the investigators. The problem is believed to be so severe that it may require a redesign of the Falcon 9’s turbopumps.
A SpaceX spokesman responded to the WSJ saying, “we have qualified our engines to be robust” to the cracking issues. While at the same time acknowledging the company is “modifying the design to avoid them altogether.”
This isn’t a new problem according to the report. Industry officials were aware of the cracked blades for months, if not years. And cracks were found as recently as September 2016, Robert Lightfoot (NASA’s acting administrator) told the WSJ.
Making space safe (as possible)
Some might see this news as a bummer for SpaceX. I see groups of people working together to make sure manned space travel is as safe as possible. SpaceX appears to be fixing the problem, and Lightfoot believes “we know how to fix them.”
What this report does do is probably push back a 2018 deadline to start sending astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil. But this was probably always going to be the case. For all the incredible things SpaceX does, keeping a firm timeline isn’t one they’re known for. Then again, keeping a strict timetable for space travel is about as hard as getting there in the first place. Accidents happen. Pieces need to be redesigned. And procedures need to be adjusted. Getting it right is more important than rushing it.
The same report also questions the status of tests related to making sure Boeing’s landing parachutes are good to go.
Boeing and SpaceX have about 22 months to get everything on the up-and-up to hit their 2018 deadline. We’ll have to wait and see how it all shakes out for the rest of 2017 and into 2018. Don’t be surprised to see that 2018 date slip into 2019.
Check out the full WSJ report for more about the GAO’s findings.
As for SpaceX’s next launch? The first launch from Kennedy Space Center’s historic pad 39A in six years will take place no earlier than mid-February. It was from here Saturn V rockets, and the Space Shuttles thundered into the sky.
SpaceX’s other Cape Canaveral pad still isn’t ready after a Falcon 9 rocket blew up last September.