SpaceX and NASA were forced to delay launch of a flagship missile after red paint fell into a rocket engine.
The rockets were to transport astronauts to the International Space Station at a launch party this Halloween. But it needs to be replaced now that it’s contaminated.
A bright red paint is applied to the rockets to protect their parts during cleaning. But SpaceX said it fell into tiny ventilation holes in the engines, rendering them unusable at launch.
The launch of Crew-1 is the first time SpaceX has carried astronauts on behalf of NASA, after a successful test flight in which the astronauts traveled to the International Space Station over the summer.
SpaceX and NASA officials announced the discovery of the potential harmful pollution on Wednesday.
The clogs were found after the aborted launch of the GPS satellite on October 2. Two of these engines were tainted with a bright red paint that protected the engine parts while cleaning.
SpaceX later discovered the same problem with two of the nine booster engines on the rocket that would launch four astronauts to the International Space Station. It will be SpaceX’s second launch for NASA astronauts after a successful test flight earlier this year.
The engine problem prompted SpaceX and NASA to launch until November 14, two weeks later than planned.
The company’s vice president, Hans Koenigsman, said new measures are being implemented to prevent the problem.
“The important part I think for us is that we caught her before anything happened,” Koenigsman told reporters. “It’s really important for us to fix it … and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Sealed vents – found in engine gas generators – are only one-sixth of an inch (1.6 mm).
Onboard computers detected the problem and stopped the countdown on October 2 in the last few seconds. Koenigsman said the contaminated engines could have been severely damaged if launched.
Cleaning is done by an external company that has not been identified. He noted that the problem only appeared in the last two months, which affected brand-new but not old boosters that had already been recycled multiple times.
NASA’s upcoming SpaceX – a satellite to monitor sea level change – is slated to launch on November 10 from California after replacing one contaminated engine.
Additional report from the Associated Press