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Next Falcon 9 launch delayed

Posted: May 9, 2014

SpaceX has delayed the launch of a Falcon 9 rocket and six communications satellite scheduled for Saturday after engineers encountered a problem during fueling of the two-stage booster Friday for a preflight engine firing.

The six Orbcomm satellites were mounted on an adapter ring before attachment to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX and the mission's customer, Orbcomm Inc., said the next launch attempt is likely to be later this month, after Delta 4 and Atlas 5 rockets lift off from Cape Canaveral with a GPS navigation satellite and a U.S. government intelligence payload.

The Air Force's Eastern Range, which operates a network of tracking and communications stations near Cape Canaveral, operates on a first-come, first-served basis. United Launch Alliance already set May 15 and May 22 as launch dates for the Delta 4 and Atlas 5.

It takes a couple of days to reconfigure the range between launches, leaving very little opportunity for the SpaceX mission to fit into Cape Canaveral's busy manifest until the last week of May.

The Falcon 9 was supposed to launch six second-generation communications satellites for Orbcomm, which operates a fleet of spacecraft several hundred miles above Earth to relay data between ships, trucks and other assets. The new satellites, called the OG2 constellation by Orbcomm, will be launched on two Falcon 9 rockets this year.

SpaceX was targeting launch Saturday at 9:47 a.m. EDT (1347 GMT), just 22 days after the company's previous Falcon 9 flight took off from the same launch pad April 18 on a resupply run to the International Space Station. It was to have been the quickest turnaround between Falcon launches in SpaceX's history.

Officials did not disclose the issue that halted the preflight engine test firing Friday on Cape Canaveral's Complex 40 launch pad. An initial try to complete the test, which culminates in a brief ignition of the Falcon 9's nine Merlin 1D first stage engines, was aborted Thursday by a separate problem with a ground system.

"Today's attempt to perform the static firing test was stopped while the rocket was being fueled," Orbcomm said in a statement Friday. "Both the OG2 satellites and the rocket are in safe condition and will be rotated horizontal and rolled back into the integration facility. This will prevent us from launching this weekend."

Orbcomm said managers have not set a new launch date, but it's likely to be later this month unless engineers can quickly resolve the problem and find a narrow opportunity early next week or next weekend between the Delta 4 and Atlas 5 flights.

"Both the Falcon 9 rocket and Orbcomm satellites are in good condition, but as a result of schedule constraints, launch will be postponed past this weekend with the next opportunity most likely in late May," a SpaceX spokesperson said.

The launch will mark the 10th flight of a Falcon 9 rocket since it debuted in June 2010. It will also be the third Falcon 9 launch of 2014.

The 224-foot-tall rocket will deploy the Orbcomm satellites into an orbit up to 466 miles in altitude with an inclination of 47 degrees. The spacecraft, built by Sierra Nevada Corp., each weigh about 375 pounds fully fueled for launch.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.