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SpaceX launches to space station, but experiences problem in orbit

March 01, 2013|By W.J. Hennigan
  • SpaceX's Falcon 9 blasts off toward the International Space Station on a NASA resupply mission.
SpaceX's Falcon 9 blasts off toward the International Space Station… (Space Exploration Technologies…)

On an overcast morning, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launched from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and sped through the clouds Friday on its way to the International Space Station.

However, about 12 minutes into the NASA resupply mission, after the rocket had lifted its Dragon capsule packed with more than 1,200 pounds of cargo into orbit, there was an anomaly in the spacecraft.

"It appears that although it reached Earth orbit, Dragon is experiencing some type of problem right now," John Insprucker, Falcon 9 product director, told viewers on SpaceX's live webcast. "We'll have to learn the nature of what happened."

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The live webcast was then shut down.

Elon Musk, SpaceX founder and chief executive, took to Twitter to describe the problem: "Issue with Dragon thruster pods. System inhibiting three of four from initializing. About to command inhibit override."

The company later issued a statement about the thrusters, which are crucial to the spacecraft successfully reaching the space station:

"One thruster pod is running. Two are preferred to take the next step which is to deploy the solar arrays. We are working to bring up the other two in order to plan the next series of burns to get to station."

The Hawthorne company's craft blasted off at 7:10 a.m. PST. The plan was that Dragon would reach and attach to the space station on Saturday, but it's unclear how the thruster issue will affect that.

There is a news conference slated for later in the day, when more information may be available.

SpaceX, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., has already performed successful NASA resupply missions to the space station. There was one official mission in October, and a demonstration mission took place in May.

Both of those missions also had problems.

In May, a problem with the Dragon's onboard sensors pushed back its capture by the station by about two hours later than planned.

In October, one of the nine engines on the massive Falcon 9 rocket experienced a problem and shut down shortly after launch. Because of the glitch, a satellite that the rocket was carrying didn't reach proper orbit, but the NASA resupply mission went on as planned and the Dragon capsule connected with the space station.

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