By W.J. Hennigan
SpaceX’s historic launch to the International Space Station was aborted in the pre-dawn hours at Cape Canaveral, Fla., when computers detected an anomaly in one of the rocket’s nine engines and automatically shut down.
Countdown to the launch, which was webcast on NASA TV, hit T-0 at 4:55 a.m. EDT when the rocket engines seemed to briefly light before the technical problem hit.
Elon Musk, SpaceX founder and CEO, tweeted shortly afterward: “Launch aborted: slightly high combustion chamber pressure on engine 5. Will adjust limits for countdown in a few days.”
The next window for the Hawthorne company to launch to the space station is May 22 at 3:44 a.m. EDT.
SpaceX, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., is due to launch its Falcon 9 rocket in a demonstration for NASA. 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.
NASA has already begun hiring privately funded start-up companies for spacecraft development and is moving toward eventually outsourcing NASA space missions.
When SpaceX does launch, the company is set to make history when its Dragon capsule docks with the space station three days later, marking the first time that a privately built craft has docked.
During the mission, SpaceX aims to do a flyby of the $100-billion space station, then approach it so the 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 to fulfill the contract in earnest. SpaceX also plans to carry astronauts to the space station one day.
The company makes its Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket at a sprawling facility in Hawthorne that once was used to assemble fuselage sections for Boeing 747s. The hardware is put on a big rig and trucked to Cape Canaveral for launches.
In December 2010, SpaceX became the first private company to send a spacecraft into orbit and return it intact. The company, which now employs around 1,800 people, has been planning the upcoming docking mission ever since