Spaceflight Insider

Dragon rendezvous aborted, next attempt in 24 hours

The CRS-8 mission will mark the first time that SpaceX's Dragon has been sent to orbit since the June 28, 2015 loss of the CRS-7 mission. Image Credit: James Vaughan / SpaceFlight Insider

An artist’s illustration of a Dragon in orbit. Image Credit: James Vaughan / SpaceFlight Insider

SpaceX’s CRS-10 Dragon capsule will try again tomorrow as its planned Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, rendezvous and berthing attempt with the International Space Station was called off. An onboard computer triggered the abort when it saw an incorrect value in the data about the location of the outpost.

The abort occurred at 3:25 a.m. EST (08:25 GMT) while the spacecraft was 3,900 feet (1,200 meters) below the ISS. The space station’s Expedition 50 crew was expecting to capture Dragon with the robotic Canadarm2 just hours later.

SpaceX's CRS-10 Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft lift off from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Liftoff occurred at 9:38 a.m. EST (14:38 GMT). Photo Credit: Mike Deep / SpaceFlight Insider

SpaceX’s CRS-10 Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft lift off from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Liftoff occurred at 9:38 a.m. EST (14:38 GMT). Photo Credit: Mike Deep / SpaceFlight Insider

According to NASA, the spacecraft automatically reset for another attempt in 24 hours and there are no issues with the cargo capsule. Should everything go as planned on Thursday, the crew should capture Dragon at around 6 a.m. EST (11:00 GMT).

Dragon launched atop a Falcon 9 at 9:39 a.m. EST (14:39 GMT) Feb. 19, 2017, from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. It has on board some 5,500 pounds (2,500 kilograms) of supplies, commodities, and experiments.

Once in orbit, Dragon’s Draco thrusters began altering its orbit to begin catching up with the orbiting laboratory. According to SpaceFlight101,¬†around 1:15 a.m. EST (06:15 GMT), the capsule moved into the space station’s 17-miles (28-kilometer) communications zone to establish a space-to-space data link between the two vehicles.

A couple hours later, the computers detected an incorrect value in the spacecraft’s Relative GPS hardware. This allows the computer to plan its burns to decrease its distance to the space station. As the computer was no longer sure where it was, it aborted for the day.

Engineers at SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California, headquarters immediately began troubleshooting the issue. The capsule is currently setting itself up for another approach attempt in 24 hours.

Dragon approaches, like all cargo ship rendezvous, are automated. The crew, however, does have some manual abort, retreat, and hold commands they can activate, should they see an issue the computers do not.

This was the first unplanned abort by a Dragon capsule since starting cargo deliveries in 2012. The demonstration 2012 Dragon C2+ mission demonstrated its ability to abort during its first approach.

When CRS-10 finally gets close enough to the outpost, Expedition 50 Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet will helm the controls of the station’s robotic arm to “grab” the spacecraft. Ground controllers will then command the arm to maneuver the capsule below the Harmony module for berthing. Once attached and leak checks are performed, the hatches will be opened to allow for cargo to be unloaded.



Derek Richardson is a student studying mass media with an emphasis in contemporary journalism at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. He is currently the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also writes a blog, called Orbital Velocity, about the space station. His passion for space ignited when he watched space shuttle Discovery leap to space on Oct. 29, 1998. He saw his first in-person launch on July 8, 2011 when the space shuttle launched for the final time. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized that his true calling was communicating to others about space exploration and spreading that passion.

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