SpaceX Falcon rocket aborts launch in last second


Saturday's attempt was aborted just as the rocket was about to lift off

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The launch of the American SpaceX company's re-supply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) has been delayed by at least three days.

The company was forced to abort the flight just as its Falcon rocket was about to leave the pad at Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Early data indicated unusual pressure readings in one of the nine engine combustion chambers under the vehicle.

The company says it hopes to try again on Tuesday or Wednesday.

"We had a nominal countdown, right until about T-minus point-five-seconds," explained SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell.

"The engine controller noted high chamber pressure in engine five; software did what it was supposed to do - aborted engine five, and then we went through the remaining engine shut-down," she told reporters.

"We need to lift off with all nine [engines], which is why we aborted. You can lose up to two engines and still make your mission, just not at lift-off."

The next earliest launch opportunity is 03:44 EDT (07:44 GMT; 08:44 BST) on Tuesday.

SpaceX is attempting to become the first private company to send a cargo craft to the ISS; and its Dragon ship, which sits atop the Falcon rocket, has been loaded with half a tonne of food and spares for the purpose.

Such unmanned freighter missions have traditionally been performed by government-owned vehicles. But by buying in this service, Nasa aims to save money that can then be spent on exploration missions far beyond Earth, at asteroids and Mars.

Both SpaceX and another private firm, Orbital Sciences Corp, have been given billion-dollar contracts by Nasa to keep the space station stocked with supplies. Orbital expects to make its first visit to the international outpost with its Antares rocket and Cygnus capsule system later this year.

SpaceX's mission - when it does eventually get under way - will be the final demonstration of its freight service. If all the mission goals are met to Nasa's satisfaction, the company's $1.6bn (£1bn; 1.3bn euros) re-supply contract with the agency will kick in.

SpaceX wants eventually also to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS.

To that end, Dragon has been designed from the outset to carry people; and under another Nasa programme, the company is working to develop the onboard life-support and safety systems that would make manned flights feasible.

Following the retirement of the shuttles last year, America has had no means of launching its own astronauts into space - rides must be bought for them on Russian Soyuz rockets at more than $60m (£38m; 47m euros) per seat. SpaceX says Dragon could be ready to carry people in 2015 at a seat price of $20m (£13m; 16m euros).

"In order for Nasa to be able to afford any programme of exploration in the future given the fiscal realities of the government, it has to transition away from high-cost services that are procured by and for the government into shared-use services that are competitively sourced," observed Jeff Greason, the president of XCOR Aerospace and a leading proponent of commercial space activity. and follow me on Twitter


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  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    As long as future major, groundbreaking missions are sponsored by Governments and/or the UN and corporations don't get "first dibs" on those sorts of things, I have no problems at all with them following NASA's footsteps.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    @38 'fuzzy'
    " .. let's stick to the planets, we don't want to end up like Icarus"
    Good post with a dry/wry sense of humour. In addition, I don't know about others here, but I would prefer the BBC opened a debate about Japan and her people having difficulties with their electricity supplies after shutting down their nuclear power stations.

    Imports of gas/oil increasing to meet basic needs.

  • Comment number 45.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    the more people involved in space exploration, the cheaper and more accessible it will be. I really hope that within our lifetime the average Joe can take a holiday to space. Bring it on!

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Amazed they can get so close to such a critical point as blast off and simply throttle back then use the same vehicle for another lift off. I’m no rocket surgeon but it must be called blast off for a very good reason. I had read that much of the vehicle was reusable but you don’t go exploding umbilical cords off rockets without some effect. Perhaps an upgrade from a ZX80 to a ZX81 might help?

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    #12 Skywatchman

    Most projects like this go through stages which should be discreetly hidden behind a sign saying "Danger-Engineers testing."

    Having to do test flights in the glare of publicity and under pressure from naive public expectations only makes it harder.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Typical inefficient bloody private sector.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    So how much does that make a mcdonalds worth if you eat it on the IIS (including delivery)

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    However, positively we are inclined to view the aborted launch, it declares to America and the world a simple fact: the US is unable to leave the surface of the earth without Russian expertise and ability. There is something ironic and sobering about that fact alone.

    Moreover, whether we like it or not, it is another indication of America's demonstrable decline in the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.


    Very interesting project, I am sure they will have success.

    Important for mankind that we reach for the stars.
    Let's stick to the planets, we don't want to end up like Icarus.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Some people just don't get humour, life must be so miserable till BBC 4 starts. I have a ph.D physics yet I still watched BGT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    @26 Tabell

    I sympathise with what you're saying. I really wouldn't want the Human race to be the Ferengi of the Galaxy. It is a shame that the global sentiment that the Apollo programme generated has been lost. Understandable though; for a long time I felt that the original motives for the space race were dubious. More of an arms race and an overt display of power than anything else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Very interesting project, I am sure they will have success.

    Important for mankind that we reach for the stars.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    I hope this is just the start of a new space race. However space won't become fully open till Governments stop looking at it nationally and view it internationally. A simple step will be to merge NASA, ESA etc with the UN.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    @2 Tabell: If you believe the recent hype about mining the asteroid belt, you would also believe in Eldorado and that the streets of London are paved with gold. People always try to drum up other people's money to finance their pet ventures with exaggerated expectations of a "fast buck".

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    I think this is just a bit of showboating by SpaceX. Being able to abort a lift off at the last second is one of the things that differentiate this launch vehicle from most others available, so it's not really a surprise that they did it, to reassure potential customers that their million dollar satellites aren't going to be blown up on the launch pad. It is an impressive thing to do though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    To boldly profit where no man has profited before...

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    It's nice to see private corporations taking over from the military and government run organizations, it really signals a step forward in terms of accessibility and the overall prospects of space travel.

    I wish them luck when they try to launch again next week, hopefully this was just a spot of bad luck.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    18.Mustafa Yorumcu - "People used to complain that taxpayer's money is being wasted on space missions. This mission is privately funded...."

    Erm, not really, the company only paid some of the development costs. NASA are paying for it with US tax payer's money.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Well er, things do go wrong, even for NASA.

    Better to abort than to have the entire lot explode in mid air... I would imagine things would have to be built, done and tested under NASA approval.

    I wonder how much an abort would be lost and gained in keeping the Shuttle in service, an abort ain't cheap!

    C'mon FedEx (forget the Royal Mail) now's ya chance to prove you can deliver!


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