AMIDST MUCH FANFARE and hype, SpaceX has aborted the launch of its Falcon rocket, effectively suspending their mission to resupply the International Space Station. Having reached ignition phase, the Falcon rocket’s engines were shut down only seconds before they were to fully power up so it could lift off from launch pad at the Kennedy Space centre in Florida.
Commenting from his twitter account, SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk’s disappointment was obvious, even if the tone of his tweet remained positive, “Launch aborted: slightly high combustion chamber pressure on Engine 5. Will adjust limits for countdown in a few days”. According to officials, the computers onboard the Falcon detected that pressure in the fifth engine powering the rocket was beyond safety levels and aborted bringing the engines up to full power, cancelling the lift-off.
Assuming SpaceX is able to identify, isolate and eliminate the problem in a timely fashion, the next closest launch window will be Tuesday Eastern US time.
The SpaceX launch has attracted a significant amount of attention globally as they sought to become the first private company to send a supply craft to the International Space Station. Both SpaceX and another private company, Orbital Sciences Corp, have secured contracts to re-supply the International Space Station.
Orbital Sciences hopes to make its first visit to the International Space Station later in 2012. It’s anticipated that moving a portion of space exploration across to the private sector could do for space travel what was achieved with aviation.
The theory goes that by engaging the private sector in aviation, air travel becomes as normal and safe as catching a train or bus. Utilising the private sector should also allow NASA to focus its scarce funds on missions to mine asteroids and explore Mars.
The aborted SpaceX mission was to be a demonstration of its freight service before it picks up its re-supply contract. Having failed to launch today means SpaceX will most probably have to repeat the launch exercise to fully satisfy NASA officials that they are ready to assume cargo transport duties to the ISS as per their contract. PAT PILCHER