Falcon 9 Sheds Tiles During Propellant Loading Exercise

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Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) fueled its Falcon 9 rocket Feb. 26 as part of a simulated countdown that company officials called a complete success despite the rocket shedding several adhesive cork tiles during the so-called wet dress rehearsal at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

SpaceX spokeswoman Emily Shanklin said the loss of the cork tiles occurred as engineers filled the medium-lift rocket with liquid-oxygen propellant to ensure the fuel lines and tanking system would work as planned. She said the shedding is not unusual and that it poses no threat to the vehicle’s launch schedule. The Hawthorne, Calif.-based company is aiming to conduct the maiden flight of Falcon 9 in April or May.

“We used the wet dress as an opportunity to test cork adhesion and there was some shedding due to shrinkage from the cold during [liquid-oxygen] loading,” she told Space News March 3. Shanklin said the tiles are used for thermal protection during the spent booster’s atmospheric re-entry, and that the cork “isn’t needed for ascent and there is no risk to flight even if it all came off.”

Shanklin said SpaceX would “reapply the cork tiles with improved surface preparation, resin and contraction joints,” following a 3.5-second static fire engine test slated at press time for March 6 or March 7.

“There will be another wet dress just before launch to verify the changes,” she said.

The upcoming launch is a demonstration flight carrying a prototype of the Dragon capsule SpaceX is developing to carry cargo to the international space station after NASA retires its space shuttle fleet from service later this year.