SpaceX satellite launch postponed to July due to tech glitches


An attempt by commercial space firm SpaceX to launch six communications satellites from Florida has been postponed again, probably to early next month, company officials say.

Originally set for June 20, the launch on behalf of satellite-communications company Orbcomm has been postponed several times for technical glitches after SpaceX engineers detected problems with the Falcon 9 rocket's second-stage engine propellant systems. The most recent attempt Tuesday was scrubbed due to unfavorable weather.

Engineers are now saying they need additional time to investigate the propellant issue.

"SpaceX will stand down Tuesday while our engineering teams evaluate further, which will also allow the Range [Cape Canaveral] to move forward with previously scheduled maintenance," Orbcomm and SpaceX representatives said in a mission update announcement. "We are currently targeting the first week of July and will work with the Range to confirm the next available launch opportunities."

The six satellites aboard the Falcon 9 rocket will be the first of an eventual constellation of 17 Orbcomm spacecraft providing machine-to-machine communication and messaging services, allowing Orbcomm's commercial customers to track things such as ships, trucks and cargo containers as they move around the globe.

The Falcon 9 is a medium-lift launch vehicle that has already been used to deliver cargo capsules for NASA to the orbiting International Space Station.

One planned feature of the satellite launch mission is to have the first stage of the Falcon 9 returned to Earth for a soft splashdown in the ocean, after which it will be recovered.

During an April supply mission to the ISS, a Falcon 9 first stage successfully soft-landed in the ocean, but rough seas damaged it before recovery ships could retrieve it.

Such recoveries will be part of plans by SpaceX to develop a space launch system that is reusable, capable of being retrieved and quickly prepared for another launch.

Such reusable launch rockets could cut the costs of missions and open up space for manned explorations, SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said.

Meanwhile, the firm's engineers continue to work on the Falcon 9, seeking to address its problems in preparation for a July launch date.

"Right now, we are going in and putting the Falcon 9 in a safe configuration," said John Insprucker, SpaceX's Falcon 9 product manager. "The launch vehicle and the spacecraft are OK. We'll be looking at off-loading propellants. The team will continue looking at data on the second stage pressure decay that we saw."

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