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SpaceX again delays historic rocket launch to space station

May 04, 2012|By W.J. Hennigan
  • SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket is prepared in its hangar at Cape Canaveral, Fla.
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket is prepared in its hangar at Cape Canaveral,… (Al Diaz / Miami Herald )

SpaceX has delayed its historic rocket launch to the International Space Station yet again.

The launch date, which has been pushed back several times already, is now set for May 19.

The company, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., was slated to blast off May 7 from Cape Canaveral, Fla., in a demonstration flight for NASA. Three or four days after launch, the company is set to make history if it docks with the space station, marking the first time that a privately built spaceship has done so.

But the launch has been delayed more than a week so engineers can make sure all onboard computer software is up to snuff.

"Thus far, no issues have been uncovered during this process, but with a mission of this complexity we want to be extremely diligent," SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Brost Grantham said in statement.

On Monday, SpaceX’s launch looked like it was on target when the company performed a successful test of its rocket engines, called a static fire test, at its launch pad in Cape Canaveral. 

But "there are a few remaining open items but we are ready to support SpaceX for its new launch date of May 19," William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, said in a statement.

The unmanned docking mission to the space station is intended to prove to NASA that SpaceX’s rocket and space capsule are ready to take on the task of hauling cargo for the space agency now that the space shuttle fleet has been retired.

SpaceX aims to do a flyby at the $100-billion space station and then approach it, so the onboard space station crew can snag it with a robotic arm and dock it.

The company already has a $1.6-billion contract to haul cargo in 12 flights to the space station for NASA. If the upcoming mission is successful, SpaceX would start in earnest to fulfill the contract.

SpaceX makes its Dragon capsule and 18-story Falcon 9 rocket at a sprawling facility in Hawthorne that once housed assembly on fuselage sections for Boeing Co.'s 747 jumbo jet. The hardware is put on a big rig and sent to Cape Canaveral for launches.

In December 2010, SpaceX became the first private company to blast a spacecraft into Earth's orbit and have it return intact. The company, whose employment numbers now stand at around 1,800, has been planning the upcoming docking mission ever since.

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Follow W.J. Hennigan on Twitter @wjhenn

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