Science

SpaceX delays space station cargo run till early January

Space Exploration Technologies is delaying the planned launch on Friday of an unmanned Falcon 9 rocket, which will carry a cargo ship to the International Space Station for NASA, to early January, officials said on Thursday.

Company cites undisclosed technical issue and 'abundance of caution'

An undisclosed technical issue and an 'abundance of caution' prompted Space Exploration Technologies to delay the launch of its Falcon 9 rocket. (Michael Brown/Reuters)

Space Exploration Technologies is delaying the planned launch on Friday of an unmanned Falcon 9 rocket, which will carry a cargo ship to the International Space Station for NASA, to early January, officials said on Thursday.

Liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida had been planned for 1:22 p.m. ET, but an undisclosed technical issue with the rocket prompted SpaceX, as the company is known, to postpone the flight until Jan 6.

The problem surfaced during routine prelaunch test firing of the rocket's engines, SpaceX spokesman John Taylor said.

"The test did not run the full duration," he said. "The data suggests we could push forward without a second attempt, but out of an abundance of caution, we are opting to execute a second static fire test prior to launch."

SpaceX, founded and run by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, is one of two companies hired by NASA to fly cargo to the space station following NASA's retirement of its space shuttle fleet in 2011.

The other company, Orbital Sciences Corphas been temporarily grounded after its Antares rocket exploded seconds after liftoff Oct. 28 from Wallops Island, Virginia, destroying a Cygnus cargo ship.

Orbital launch in January

Orbital said last week it would buy up to two rocket rides for Cygnus from United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing to fill the gap until Antares is able to return to flight in 2016. Orbital's next station cargo run, which will launch aboard an Atlas 5 rocket, is expected in late 2015.

Orbital on Wednesday said it would buy Russian RD-181 engines to power the Antares, replacing the AJ-26 motor suspected of causing the accident. The AJ-26s are Soviet-era engines refurbished and resold by Aerojet Rocketdyne, a GenCorp company.

The space station, a $100 billion research laboratory that flies about 418 kilometres above Earth, is in no danger of running out of food or supplies for its six-member crew, NASA said.

SpaceX so far has flown four of 12 missions under its $1.6 billion NASA contract. The delay leaves SpaceX with a total of six Falcon launches in 2014, about half as many as planned, but double its 2013 rate. 

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