The inaugural test launch of a new commercial rocket has slipped from May 28 to no earlier than June 2, according to its builder Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX).
The first Falcon 9 rocket, assembled on the SpaceX launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, is awaiting U.S. Air Force approval of its flight termination system, an explosive charge designed to destroy the rocket if it veers off course during launch.
"Looks like the delay of the [Air Force Delta 4] GPS satellite launch has taken up a lot of resources at the Cape and in turn pushed the first test launch of Falcon 9 from May 28/29 to no earlier than June 2/3," SpaceX spokeswoman Emily Shanklin said in an e-mail sent to reporters late Tuesday.
The Air Force has been trying to launch the new GPS satellite since last week. But weather and technical delays have prevented the satellite's Delta 4 rocket from launching from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. They also forced the Air Force to wait until after NASA's space shuttle Atlantis landed today to try again.
The Delta 4 rocket is currently slated to make another launch attempt late Thursday, May 27.
The first Falcon 9 rocket will carry a qualification version of SpaceX's Dragon capsule, which is designed to carry cargo, and potentially humans into orbit and the International Space Station. Under a $1.6 billion NASA contract awarded in 2008, Dragon and Falcon 9 are set to begin delivering cargo to the space station beginning in 2011. [Graphic: SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Dragon.]
SpaceX's medium-lift Falcon 9 rocket is a two-stage booster. It stands 180 feet (55 meters) tall and is about 12 feet (3.6 meters) wide, with a first stage powered by nine of SpaceX's own Merlin rocket engines fueled by liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene.
NASA is banking on the success of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon spacecraft, as well as other commercial space vehicle efforts.
The U.S. space agency plans to retire its three space shuttles later this year and use unmanned commercial spacecraft to ferry supplies to the space station until privately built crew-carrying vehicles become available in the next five years or so.
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