SpaceX has delayed the Falcon 9 launch from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida until at least 22 May after it was forced to shut down the Number 5 engine almost immediately after the initiating the launch.

The Dragon space capsule and Falcon booster, meant to send the first commercial spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station (ISS), was scheduled to launch within a launch window of only a few seconds. Any delay would postpone the launch for several days..

SpaceX has suffered from numerous delays, though this scrub marks the closest SpaceX has gotten to launching the mission. Previous delays have largely been attributed to software issues with the Dragon capsule.

"I don't believe we've hit a T-0 yet on a first attempt," said SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell at an 18 May press conference, referring to the launch countdown clock.

"If by 4:55 and a couple of seconds we haven't lifted off, we have to scrub," added Shotwell. Due to the ISS's low, fast orbit, the launch window is relatively short, and open only once every three to four days. Possible launch windows include 22, 25 and 29 May, after which the launch date slips into June.

Both rocket and capsule are new. The scrubbed launch would have been only the rocket's third flight, and the capsule's second.

 SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket


Development of the Dragon capsule is funded under NASA's commercial orbital transportation services (COTS) contract, meant to stimulate a service-based spaceflight capability for bringing supplies to the ISS. The second COTS contractor, Orbital Sciences, is due to launch its first Cygnus capsule on a test flight in late 2012, which will not approach ISS.

SpaceX is developing a human-rated version of the Dragon capsule to ferry crew to the ISS under the second phase of NASA's commercial crew development (CCDev) programme, and has submitted a bid for the third round, known as the commercial crew integrated capability (CCiCap).

Source: Flight International