SpaceX just delayed a historic rocket launch due to a familiar glitch

spacex falcon launch pad 39a cape canaveral flickr 32945170225_58129f00dc_o

SpaceX/Flickr (public domain)

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon cargo capsule on top await launch from Pad 39A, the same Cape Canaveral, Fla. launch pad that the moon missions lifted off from.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was poised for a debut flight on Saturday from a NASA launchpad idled since the end of the space shuttle program nearly six years ago.

However, a devices that has caused SpaceX headaches and delays both in 2015 and 2014 - called a thrust vector control (TVC) - spurred mission managers to delay just seconds before liftoff. The device helps maintain the rocket's speed and direction.Advertisement

The rocket was originally scheduled for launch at 10:01 a.m. ET from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, pending good weather. But the company was aware of a minor problem with the TVC, which is located in the motor of the second stage, or upper half of the rocket.

Owned and operated by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, has not flown from Florida in six months.

Flights were suspended after a rocket exploded as it was being fueled for a routine, prelaunch test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The accident destroyed the rocket and its cargo and heavily damaged the launchpad.

SpaceX resumed flying last month from a second launch site in California while it hustled to finish work on the shuttle's old launchpad. Originally built for the 1960s-era Apollo moon program, the Florida pad was refurbished for the space shuttles, which flew from 1981 to 2011.

SpaceX signed a 20-year lease for the historic pad in 2014."My heart is pounding to come out here today. Not because you guys make me nervous, but because I've got a vehicle on this extraordinary pad behind me," SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell told reporters at the launchpad on Friday, about a day before the delay.Advertisement

Enter the Dragon

Dragon Capsule

REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Perched on top of the rocket is a Dragon capsule loaded with about 5,500 pounds (2,500 kg) of supplies and science experiments for the International Space Station (ISS), a $100 billion research laboratory that flies about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.

NASA hired privately owned SpaceX and Orbital ATK to resupply the station after the shuttles were retired. The US space agency last year added a third company, privately owned Sierra Nevada Corp, for station cargo runs beginning in 2019.Advertisement

By then, SpaceX intends to also be launching NASA astronauts, breaking Russia's monopoly on flying crew to the space station.

Shotwell on Friday dismissed a Government Accountability Office report this week that said SpaceX and Boeing , which also is developing a space taxi for NASA, have too many technical hurdles ahead to make their 2018 deadlines for station crew ferry flights.

"The response to that report ... is, 'The hell we won't fly before 2019!'" Shotwell said.Advertisement

A backup opportunity for Saturday's launch is for 9:38 a.m. ET on Sunday.

SpaceX has to wait until then because the ISS has to pass right overhead for the Dragon to catch up and dock with it, a company representative said during a live newscast on YouTube.

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