A SpaceX rocket launch from Florida was canceled because of a last-minute technical glitch on Tuesday, delaying a cargo run to the International Space Station and a pioneering attempt to fly the discarded booster back to Earth, officials said.
The company, whose full name is Space Exploration Technologies, was on track for a predawn liftoff of its 14th Falcon rocket. The Falcon 9 carries a Dragon cargo ship filled with supplies for the space station, a permanently staffed research laboratory that flies about 260 miles (418 km) above Earth.
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But with less than two minutes left on the countdown clock, the launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station was called off when a computer detected a possible problem with a piece of equipment in the rocket's upper-stage motor, said NASA launch commentator George Diller.
Technical and weather-related delays are not uncommon.
If the latest problem can be found and fixed, the next launch attempt could come on Friday at 5:09 a.m. EST/1009 GMT, with the freighter reaching the station on Sunday.
Once the Dragon cargo ship is sent on its way to the station, SpaceX intends to use the rocket's discarded 14-story first stage for an unprecedented test. The booster will use leftover fuel to relight some of its engines, breaking its fall back through the atmosphere and positioning itself to touch down on a 300-by-100-foot (91-by-30-meter) platform stationed off Florida's east coast.
If successful, the test will mark a significant step in SpaceX's quest to develop rockets that can be refurbished and re-flown, slashing launch costs.
"This would have an impact on the entire industry," SpaceX Vice President Hans Koenigsmann told reporters.
Founder and Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk previously estimated the chance of a successful landing on the first try at 50 percent. "I pretty much made that up," Musk said in an interview on Reddit a few hours before Tuesday's launch attempt. "I have no idea."
The Dragon capsule is loaded with more than 5,100 pounds (2,313 kg) of food, supplies and equipment. The station, which supports rotating crews of six astronauts and cosmonauts, has a four-to-six-month supply of such necessities, NASA station program manager Mike Suffredini told reporters before Tuesday's launch attempt.
The capsule also holds a fruit fly experiment designed for immune system studies and an instrument to be mounted outside the station to measure clouds and aerosols in Earth's atmosphere.
NASA hired SpaceX, along with Orbital Sciences Corp to fly cargo to the $100 billion station, a project of 15 nations, after the space shuttles were retired in 2011.
Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX already has made five flights to the orbital outpost, including a test flight and four of 12 planned operational missions under its $1.6 billion NASA contract.
The privately owned company had hoped to fly again in December, but delayed the mission after a routine prelaunch firing of the main engines shut down early. That problem has since been resolved, SpaceX said. (Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)
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