In an April 29th letter to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James and NASA Administrator Bolden, House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Mike Rogers (AL-3), whose district does not include any NASA facilities, raised concerns about the CRS-3 launch and requested the status of certification of new entrants into the EELV program. More specifically, Rep. Rogers’ letter raised under performance issues of both the Falcon 9 v1.1 launcher and Dragon spacecraft and questioned SpaceX’s statement that the CRS-3 launch was “perfect as far as we could tell.” SpaceX, in a comment to AmericaSpace on Rep. Rogers’ letter, stated that the Congressman’s data points were factually incorrect and that the performance of the Falcon 9.1 and Dragon was excellent. In his letter, Rep. Rogers raised two issues about the CRS-3 launch:
- The Falcon 9 v 1.1 CRS-3 launcher was short of the desired orbit and that the initial maneuver plan had to be changed to account for changed times and burn durations. According to reports, this may have been the result of booster under performance.
- The SpaceX Dragon capsule experienced a failure of three of its four thrusters (almost a full quad).
The Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman also requested of both NASA’s Bolden and Air Force Secretary James that,
- Any anomalies on the certification launches or related launches being performed for NASA, or commercial customers, by SpaceX; and
- Concerns, if any, the Air Force has had with regard to the certification of new entrants and how those anomalies and near-failures are factoring into the certification evaluation.
SpaceX, when asked to comment on Rep. Rogers’ letter, stated that the Falcon 9 delivered the Dragon spacecraft to its targeted orbit. According to Hannah Post, a SpaceX spokesperson, given the Falcon 9.1’s excellent placement, a pre-planned contingency burn was not required. Ms. Post went on to say, “The Dragon spacecraft was stabilized immediately on orbit and following a re-command sequence for a valve, Dragon successfully initiated all thrusters and arrived as expected at the International Space Station on Sunday, April 20th.” Concerning issues regarding the Falcon 9 second-stage on CRS-1, Ms. Post commented: “SpaceX did not attempt a relight of the second stage on the 2012 CRS-1 mission. This was due to pre-established flight rules with respect to ISS safety, required by NASA and agreed to by ORBCOMM. The ORBCOMM secondary satellite was deployed to orbit by Falcon 9, but it was done so at the lower altitude used by Dragon in order to optimize the safety of the space station mission.”
The responses by Air Force Secretary James and NASA Administrator Bolden to Rep. Rogers letter will be published here when available.