UAE astronaut's 6-month space mission: Why was liftoff delayed?

SpaceX has removed the propellant from the Falcon 9 rocket and the four astronauts, including Sultan AlNeyadi, have safely exited the rocket

by

Nandini Sircar

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Published: Mon 27 Feb 2023, 1:44 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Mar 2023, 12:34 PM

The launch of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-6 mission from the Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida to the International Space Station (ISS) was scrubbed at just over two minutes to go before SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket was due to launch, on February 27, Monday, apparently due to an issue with the ignition system.

SpaceX on its Twitter account posted, “Standing down from tonight's launch of Crew-6 due to a TEA-TEB ground system issue. Both Crew-6 and the vehicles are healthy and propellant offload has begun ahead of the crew disembarking Dragon.”

SpaceX has removed the propellant from the Falcon 9 rocket and the four astronauts - UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, American astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren Hoburg, and Russian astronaut Andrey Fedyaev - have safely exited the rocket. Both the Falcon 9 and Dragon are in a "safe configuration".

Nasa and SpaceX will forgo a launch opportunity on Tuesday, February 28, due to "unfavourable weather forecast conditions".

The next available launch attempt is on Thursday, March 2, "pending resolution of the technical issue preventing Monday’s launch". The estimated time for the launch attempt is 12.34am EST (9.34am UAE time).

What caused the launch delay?

During the NASA’s webcast, the host first mentioned the reason to be the TEA-TEB igniter fluid about five minutes before the anticipated liftoff time.

It’s said mission operators were unable to clear the technical issue before the instantaneous launch window opened.

“I’m proud of the NASA and SpaceX teams’ focus and dedication to keeping Crew-6 safe,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Human spaceflight is an inherently risky endeavor and, as always, we will fly when we are ready.”

In the mission, the Falcon 9 rocket will take crew Dragon Endeavor and the four astronauts of Crew-6 up to low-Earth orbit.

Explaining the Crew 3 Commander, NASA astronaut Raja Chari says there wasn’t enough confidence in the amount of TEA-TAB that was there.

“So, the scrub call happened. It’s good and bad. The bad side is that you are ready to go but as much as one wants to go safety is the paramount thing. It’s a good thing also because you get a chance to run through all the events and timelines. So, you get another run-through with all the procedures,” he added.

What is TEA-TEB?

TEA-TAB is a combination of triethylaluminum (TEA) and triethylborane (TEB). According to arstechnica.com, these are two different metal elements each linked to three hydrocarbon atoms. These molecules are held together by rather tenuous bonds that break easily. When it comes into contact with oxygen, TEA-TEB can spontaneously combust.

This is useful for igniting rocket engines which is rather tricky especially when it comes to precisely starting engines at a certain time, in a carefully controlled manner.

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