Sat | Jun 12, 2021

Space rocket launch aborted at last second

Published:Sunday | May 20, 2012 | 12:00 AM

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP):A new private supply ship for the International Space Station remained stuck on the ground yesterday after rocket engine trouble led to a last-second abort of the historic flight.

All nine engines for the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket roared to life yesterday morning. But with a mere half-second remaining before lift-off, the onboard computers automatically shut everything down.

So instead of blasting off on a delivery mission to the space station, the rocket stayed on its launch pad amid a plume of engine exhaust.

Even NASA's most seasoned launch commentator was taken off-guard.

"Three, two, one, zero and lift-off," announced commentator George Diller, his voice trailing as the rocket failed to budge. "We've had a cut-off. Lift-off did not occur."

possible engine problems

SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said that high combustion chamber pressure in engine No. 5 was to blame and that technicians would conduct an inspection later in the day. If the engine needs to be replaced, a spare is available.

Tuesday is the earliest that SpaceX can try again to send its cargo-laden Dragon capsule to the space station.

The California-based company - formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp - is targeting every few days for a launch attempt to save fuel in case of rendezvous problems at the space station. Wednesday also could be a launch option.

This was the first launch attempt by the several private American companies hoping to take over the job of delivering cargo and eventually astronauts to the space station for NASA. Only governments have accomplished that to date: the United States, Russia, Europe and Japan.

NASA is looking to the private sector, in this post-shuttle era, to get American astronauts launching again from US soil. SpaceX officials said that could happen in as little as three years, possibly four. Several other companies are in the running.

An estimated 1,000 SpaceX and NASA guests poured into the launching area in the wee hours of Saturday, hoping to see first-hand the start of this new commercial era. They left disappointed. The abort was especially disheartening given the perfect weather and the absence of any earlier countdown problems.

Shotwell was asked by a reporter whether she considered Saturday's abort a failure.

"This is not a failure," she said. "We aborted with purpose. It would be a failure if we were to have lifted off with an engine trending in this direction."

She added: "The software did what it was supposed to do" with the engine shutdown.