SpaceX tests rocket ahead of Tuesday launch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - Space Exploration Technologies, one of two firms poised to take over U.S. cargo runs to the International Space Station after NASA retires its space shuttles, test-fired its rocket on Saturday in preparation for a Tuesday launch, officials said.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off on its debut launch from launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida June 4, 2010. REUTERS/Scott Audette

The Falcon rocket’s nine liquid oxygen and kerosene-burning engines briefly ignited at 10:50 a.m. EST after two aborted attempts earlier on Saturday and on Friday.

The problems were fixed and the Falcon 9 rocket’s engines fired at full power for about two seconds, the company said in a statement on its website.

The company, which also is known as SpaceX and is owned and run by Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk, plans to launch the rocket Tuesday at 9:03 a.m./1403 GMT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a demonstration mission for NASA.

The goal of the flight is to put a Dragon capsule into space for a test run around the planet. After as many as four orbits, the capsule is expected to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and parachute into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.

NASA has awarded contracts worth $3.5 billion for SpaceX and a second company, Orbital Sciences Corp., to deliver cargo to the space station after the shuttles are retired next year.

To prepare, NASA is helping to pay for both firms to develop and test fly their rockets and capsules.

SpaceX also plans to upgrade the Dragon for passenger space transport.

SpaceX’s contract with NASA calls for up to three demonstration missions before it starts cargo delivery runs to the station, the first of which is targeted for December 2011.

The second Dragon test-flight includes a rendezvous with the station, and the third, a docking. Those missions could be combined depending on the Dragon’s performance and pending NASA’s approval.

Orbital Sciences plans to debut its Taurus 4 launcher next summer.

Editing by Kevin Gray and Bill Trott