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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – SpaceX’s second astronaut flight is on hold until mid-November because red lacquer has leaked into tiny air holes in two rocket motors that now need to be replaced.
SpaceX and NASA officials on Wednesday announced the discovery of the potentially damaging contamination.
The plugged holes were found after the abortive launch of a GPS satellite on October 2. Two of these engines were contaminated with the bright red coating, which protects engine parts during cleaning.
SpaceX later discovered the same problem with two of the rocket’s nine booster engines that will launch four astronauts to the International Space Station. This will be SpaceX’s second astronaut launch for NASA after a successful test flight earlier this year.
The engine problem prompted SpaceX and NASA to postpone the launch until November 14, two weeks later than expected.
A vice president of the company, Hans Koenigsmann, said new procedures were being implemented to avoid the problem.
“The important part, I think, for us is that we figured it out before anything happened,” Koenigsmann told reporters. “It’s really important for us to fix it… and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The clogged air vents – located in the engine’s gas generators – are only a sixteenth of an inch (1.6 millimeters) in size.
The on-board computers detected the problem and interrupted the October 2 countdown in the final seconds. The contaminated engines could have been severely damaged if they had fired, Koenigsmann said.
The cleaning process is carried out by an outside company, which has not been identified. The problem appears to have arisen in just the past two months, he noted, affecting newer boosters, but not older ones that have already been recycled multiple times.
SpaceX’s next launch for NASA – a satellite to monitor sea level change – is scheduled for Nov. 10 from California after a contaminated engine has been replaced.