SpaceX’s historic launch to space station scrubbed at last second

SpaceX’s historic launch to the International Space Station was aborted in the pre-dawn hours at Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Saturday when computers detected a problem with 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. Eastern time when the rocket engines seemed to briefly light before the technical problem hit.

Elon Musk, SpaceX founder and chief executive, 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 is May 22 at 3:44 a.m. Eastern (12:44 a.m. Pacific).


SpaceX, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., is launching its Falcon 9 rocket in a demonstration flight 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.

INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC: SpaceX’s demonstration mission

SpaceX, profiled in The Times on Tuesday, 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 about 1,800 people, has been planning the upcoming docking mission ever since.


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Follow W.J. Hennigan on Twitter @wjhenn