SpaceX Dragon Launch Postponed
January 17, 2012

SpaceX Dragon Launch Postponed

Private rocket-building firm SpaceX announced that it is delaying its first launch attempt to send its Dragon capsule to the International Space Station (ISS), saying the spacecraft needs more work before it is ready for liftoff, reports W.J. Hennigan of the Los Angeles Times.

The Hawthorne, California-based company, headed by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, had planned a February 7 launch at Cape Canaveral, Florida, but said it has delayed the launch because the rocket needed more engineering work before taking the historic voyage. SpaceX did not have a new date for when the launch could happen.

SpaceX has a $1.6-billion contract to make 12 flights to the ISS for NASA. The Dragon is expected to dock with the orbiting space lab on its first visit, leapfrogging ahead of previous schedules calling for an initial trial rendezvous without docking. If the first launch and docking mission is successful, it will give SpaceX a step in the right direction toward fulfilling its contract.

While the new launch date is unknown, SpaceX officials did tell reporters that “we are now working with NASA to establish a new target launch date, but note that we will continue to test and review data. We will launch when the vehicle is ready.”

“We believe that there are a few areas that will benefit from additional work and will optimize the safety and success of this mission,” Kirstin Grantham, a SpaceX spokeswoman, told Los Angeles Times in a statement.

The mission has been in the works for more than a year. SpaceX became the first private company to successfully launch a spacecraft into Earth´s orbit and have it return safely when it did so in December 2010 when it launched its Dragon capsule aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, also built by SpaceX.

SpaceX wants to rendezvous with the ISS to demonstrate it is the clear frontrunner in taking over for the now-defunct space shuttle program.

Though Dragon is currently only suited for unmanned missions to the space station, SpaceX believes the Dragon and Falcon 9 are safe and reliable enough to ferry astronauts as soon as NASA is willing to allow it.

Musk, a 40-year-old South African native, has no secrets when it comes to his long-term ambitions. He has frequently hinted of possible missions to Mars, and his company has suggested more than once that Dragon capsules fitted with the company´s “Draco” retro-rockets could land not just on Earth, but on other planets as well.

A recent update from SpaceX, speaks openly of Dragon having “the power it needs for longer trips, whether to the Space Station or future missions to Mars.” But in order for Musk and his company to achieve such lofty goals, they must first show that Dragon is not just a one-hit wonder. Once it proves unmanned cargo missions are fruitful, the next hurdle will be to put astronauts into space, and then perhaps more long-distance journeys beyond low-orbit.

Such goals are not going to be cheap either, and will have to be largely funded by commercial revenues. Musk says SpaceX is already profitable, and has recently indicated that he is willing to open the door for an IPO, although no offering has yet materialized.

The road ahead is going to be a long one for Musk and SpaceX, but they are undoubtedly going in the right direction.


Image Caption: As part of the COTS 3 objectives Dragon approaches the ISS, so astronauts can reach it with the robotic arm. Illustration: NASA / SpaceX


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