SpaceX Orbcomm Delay Was Due to a Helium Leak

Space News is reporting that the May 9th scrub of the SpaceX/Orbcomm launch scheduled for the following day was caused by a helium leak detected during the fueling procedure for a static test fire.

The leak is apparently unrelated to a different problem which cropped up shortly before liftoff on April 14th, as the Falcon 9 was counting down to the NASA CRS-3 launch to the International Space Station. That issue was caused by a helium valve which failed to hold the required pressure for the stage separation pistons.

From the Space News story:

“The issue was a helium leak in a different location that wasn’t present during earlier tests,” Sha(n)klin said. “We are thoroughly reviewing the stage before clearing it for flight, as we want to make sure that no further such issues occur. We are now targeting June 11th with June 12th as a backup.”

“Industry officials said Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has removed the suspect component from the rocket, leaving the rest of the rocket at the spaceport, with tests underway at the company’s Hawthorne, California, production plant.”

The Falcon 9 uses helium gas to pressurize its two stages prior to flight, as well as to provide pressure for its pneumatic stage release mechanism and for fairing separation.  Observers will recall that the Dragon spacecraft also uses helium for its Draco thruster pressurization, and it was a minute change in a valve supplied by a vendor which nearly derailed the CRS-2 mission.

As the article alludes, the announcement of the reason for the scrub should quash a number of rumors, likely including one put forward in a nearly incoherent letter sent to NASA by a member of Congress from Alabama, whose district just happens to border on space occupied by United Launch Alliance.

The next launch attempt is scheduled for June 11, with a backup slot the next day.

Posted in: SpaceX

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