SpaceX has postponed the launch of the Falcon 9 rocket, meant to test a marine-based landing pad. Takeoff was delayed due to a technical glitch, which should be repaired quickly. The private space developer has announced that a second attempt to launch the test flight is currently scheduled for Jan. 9.
The Falcon 9 rocket will ferry a shipment of 5,100 pounds of supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), aboard a Dragon cargo ship. After delivery, the booster should safely reenter the atmosphere of the Earth, and carry out a controlled landing on a pad, floating on the ocean surface.
Less than two minutes were left before takeoff, when a computer recognized the problem, and the launch was scrubbed.
"Need to investigate the upper stage Z actuator. Was behaving strangely. Next launch attempt on Friday at 5am," Elon Musk, SpaceX founder, tweeted.
Need to investigate the upper stage Z actuator. Was behaving strangely. Next launch attempt on Friday at 5am.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 6, 2015
The rocket is poised to take off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 5:09 a.m. on Friday.
The ISS, the target of the 14th flight of the Falcon rocket, orbits approximately 260 miles above the surface of the Earth. Once the cargo is delivered to the orbiting outpost, rockets will fire on the booster, directing the rocket segment to enter the atmosphere, and slow its descent.
The booster will head toward its landing pad, measuring just 300 feet long by 170 feet wide (with extended wings), located off the east coast of Florida.
Launch costs are still considerably high, but the development of a completely reusable rocket could make space travel much more affordable for cargo and human crews alike.
"This would have an impact on the entire industry," Hans Koenigsmann, vice-president of SpaceX, said.
The Falcon 9 is a two-stage rocket, designed to reliably deliver cargo and, one day, human crew into orbit. This is the first rocket designed completely in the 21st Century, and was utilized for the first private delivery in history to the ISS.
"At 14 stories tall and traveling upwards of 1300 m/s (nearly 1 mi/s), stabilizing the Falcon 9 first stage for reentry is like trying to balance a rubber broomstick on your hand in the middle of a windstorm," SpaceX officials reported.
The Space Shuttle program was an early step in the drive toward reusable rocket systems. However, early announcements by NASA predicting quick turnaround times between launches turned out to be far too optimistic.
The successful development of a completely reusable rocket system could -- for the first time in history and even with unknown consequences -- slash the costs of getting to space.