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Technical glitch delays SpaceX Falcon rocket launch

Irene Klotz, Spaceflight Correspondent
Jan 6, 2015, 20:05 UTC

Sen—Launch of a Space Exploration Technologies Falcon 9 rocket was called off less than two minutes before liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Tuesday when a computer detected a potential problem with the booster's upper-stage engine.

The next opportunity for launch is at 5:09 a.m. EST (1009 UTC) Friday.

The problem appears to be with actuators in the upper-stage motor’s thrust vector control system, said NASA launch commentator George Diller.

The rocket is carrying a Dragon capsule loaded with more than 5,100 pounds of food, equipment and supplies for the International Space Station.

SpaceX, as the California-based company is known, had planned to fly in December, but delayed the flight after a routine prelaunch engine firing shut down prematurely.

NASA is more dependent on SpaceX for station resupply runs since a launch accident temporarily grounded its second cargo carrier, Orbital Sciences Corp.

The launch delay also postpones an unusual test SpaceX plans to conduct after the rocket’s first-stage separates from the upper-stage motor and Dragon cargo ship. As it descends back to Earth, the booster is preprogrammed to land itself on a 300 by 100-ft platform floating off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida.

"Returning anything from space is a challenge, but returning a Falcon 9 first stage for a precision landing presents a number of additional hurdles," SpaceX wrote in a blog post last month.

 "At 14 stories tall and traveling upwards of 1,300 m/s (meters per second, or 2,908 mph), stabilizing the Falcon 9 first stage for re-entry is like trying to balance a rubber broomstick on your hand in the middle of a wind storm,” SpaceX said.

If the touchdown is successful, the rocket will vent any residual liquid oxygen, clearing the way for engineers on a nearby support ship to board the platform and lock the booster’s landing legs onto the deck to secure for the ride back to Jacksonville, Florida.

SpaceX is working on technology that will enable it to refurbish and refly its rockets, slashing the costs of launch.