May 19, 2012 / 9:47 AM / 6 years ago

Possible engine problem delays U.S. rocket launch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - The launch of a privately owned Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station was delayed on Saturday when a computer detected a possible problem with one of the rocket’s engines, a Space Exploration Technologies official said.

Preparations for the company’s trial cargo run to the International Space Station proceeded smoothly until 4:55 a.m. EDT (0855 GMT) when an onboard computer aborted the launch.

“Liftoff ... we’ve had a cutoff. Liftoff did not occur,” said NASA launch commentator George Diller, caught off guard by the sudden, last-minute turn of events.

A computer monitoring the rocket’s nine engines detected a climbing pressure reading in one engine’s chambers and halted the launch 0.5 seconds before liftoff, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell told reporters.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 test rocket is being prepared for launch from Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida May 18, 2012. REUTERS/Pierre DuCharme (This photograph was refiled to fix the byline)

“Just like a pilot at the end of a runway revs the engines and looks at the gauges. We were revving the engines, we were looking at the gauges and we decided not to fly,” Shotwell said, adding that the problem was unlikely to be a sensor issue.

The company’s next launch opportunity is at 3:44 a.m. EDT (0744 GMT) on Tuesday.

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It is trying to send the unmanned rocket, carrying a Dragon cargo capsule, to the International Space Station, and would be the first private company to do this.

SpaceX is one of two firms hired by NASA to fly cargo to the $100 billion orbital outpost, which is owned by the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada.

Since the U.S. space shuttles were retired last year, NASA has had no way to reach the station and is dependent on its partner countries to fly cargo and crew. It hopes to change that by buying rides commercially from U.S. companies.

Reporting by Irene Klotz, 001321 639 1511,; editing by Tim Pearce

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