An incoming report from the US Government Accountability Office could house safety concerns about SpaceX‘s Falcon 9 rocket. The findings from this congressional investigation could threaten to delay SpaceX in its aggressive launch schedule. Those findings could also leave SpaceX’s planned manned flights grounded until the uncovered issue is fixed.
According to inside sources speaking to The Wall Street Journal, the US GAO is concerned about cracks that keep appearing in the Falcon 9’s turbine blades. Those turbine blades are used to pump fuel into the Falcon 9’s engines, so this is a pretty big issue that SpaceX needs to solve. While the US GAO’s findings are preliminary, we’ll be getting a full report from the office within the next few weeks.
This seems to be a persistent issue with the Falcon 9, though the WSJ’s report says that it doesn’t appear to have played a role in the launch pad explosion SpaceX suffered back in September. A SpaceX spokesperson says that while the company has designed the engines in the Falcon 9 to withstand such cracks, it’s still redesigning the engines “to avoid them altogether.”
NASA is also aware of these cracks and has told SpaceX that they “pose an unacceptable risk for manned flights.” That means they’ll have to be fixed before SpaceX can start putting people on its rockets, but NASA acting administrator Robert Lightfoot seems to think that this is a solvable problem. He tells The WSJ that he thinks NASA and SpaceX know how to fix the problem, so as long as that’s the case, it should be too long before SpaceX is back on track to taking humans into space.
Still, those manned launches may not be on schedule, and SpaceX may not be the only one to miss 2018 deadlines from NASA. The GAO investigation will also conclude that Boeing may fall behind schedule thanks to questions about the parachute systems meant to bring its capsules back to Earth safely. Both SpaceX and Boeing have received funding from NASA for projects meant to taxi astronauts to the International Space Station and back.
We’ll have to wait and see what the full report says in a few weeks. It sounds like it will express serious doubts that SpaceX and Boeing can meet their deadlines for next year, which would be disappointing to say the least. We’ll likely hear what official statements from SpaceX and Boeing say once the report lands, so stay tuned.
SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal