SpaceX and Nasa halt astronaut launch after red paint gets into rocket engines

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

SpaceX and Nasa have been forced to delay a pioneering rocket launch after red lacquer dripped into a rocket engine.

The rockets had been scheduled to carry astronauts to the International Space Station on a Halloween launch. But they must now be replaced after becoming contaminated.

The bright red coating is put onto the rockets to protect their parts during cleaner. But it dripped into small vent holes in the engines, making them unable to be used for the launch, SpaceX said.

The Crew-1 launch is the first full time that SpaceX will carry astronauts on behalf of Nasa, following a successful test flight in which astronauts flew to to the ISS over summer.

SpaceX and Nasa officials announced the discovery of the potentially damaging contamination on Wednesday.

The clogged holes were found after the aborted launch of a GPS satellite on 2 October. Two of those engines were contaminated with the bright red coating, which protects engine parts during cleaning.

SpaceX later found the same problem with two of the nine booster engines on the rocket that will launch four astronauts to the International Space Station. It will be SpaceX's second launch of astronauts for NASA after a successful test flight earlier this year.

The engine trouble prompted SpaceX and NASA to bump the launch to 14 November, two weeks later than planned.

A company vice president, Hans Koenigsmann, said new procedures are being implemented to the prevent the problem.

"The important part, I think, for us is that we caught it before anything happened," Koenigsmann told reporters. "Really important for us that we fix it ... and make sure that never happens again."

The clogged vent holes — located in the engine gas generators — are just one-sixteenth of an inch (1.6 millimeters).

On-board computers detected the problem and halted the 2 October countdown in the final few seconds. The contaminated engines could have been badly damaged if they had fired, Koenigsmann said.

The cleaning process is done by an outside company, which was not identified. The problem appears to have cropped up in just the last couple months, he noted, affecting brand new boosters but not the older ones that already have been recycled several times.

SpaceX's next launch for Nasa — a satellite to monitor sea level change — is scheduled for 10 November from California following the replacement of one contaminated engine.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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