SpaceX's Falcon 1 Rocket Won’t Debut Before Dec. 17
A Falcon 1 rocket - the first to launch for the El Segundo, California-based firm SpaceX - sits atop its launch pad at Kwajalein Atoll near the equator on the Pacific Ocean awaiting its planned liftoff on Nov. 26, 2005.
Credit: SpaceX.

WASHINGTON -- Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) now expects the maiden flight of its Falcon 1 rocket to occur no earlier than Dec. 17, said Elon Musk, the company's founder and chief executive.

In a Nov. 29 telephone interview, Musk said the date is driven by range availability and the time it will take to have a new supply of liquid oxygen delivered from Hawaii to the company's launch site on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean's Marshall Islands chain.

Kwajalein is home to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site. Musk said the U.S. military has the range booked for missile defense tests between now and Dec. 17.

El Segundo, Calif.-based SpaceX was forced to scrub a Nov. 26 launch attempt due to an engine computer glitch and liquid-oxygen tank problems. The rocket is slated to launch the FalconSat 2 spacecraft built by students at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Musk said the vent valve on one of the four liquid-oxygen supply tanks used to ready the Falcon 1 for liftoff was mistakenly left open during the fueling process, preventing SpaceX from completing the fueling operation.

In addition, the rocket's main engine computer reset itself prior to the final countdown due to what appears to have been a ground power source interruption, Musk said.

SpaceX engineers suspect, but are not yet certain, that ice might have fallen off of the Falcon 1's liquid oxygen-filled first stage and struck a quick disconnect box, temporarily interrupting the flow of power to the computer, Musk said. He said additional analysis is under way to confirm the cause of the problem.

SpaceX would have had sufficient liquid-oxygen supplies on hand at Kwajalein to recover from the tanking mistake if the company's on-site liquid-oxygen plant had not broken down three weeks prior to the launch attempt.

SpaceX decided to ship the needed liquid oxygen in from Hawaii rather than wait for the equipment to be repaired.

But the tanks used to ship the liquid oxygen to Kwajalein were so poorly insulated, Musk said, that by the time the delivery arrived, about 80 percent of SpaceX's order had boiled off.

Musk said he has no choice but to use the same supplier, but this time he is sending two of SpaceX's own well-insulated tanks back to Hawaii to be filled and shipped back out to Kwajalein.

Musk said he was working with the U.S. Army to find a ride to Hawaii for the tanks on a C-5 cargo aircraft in the days ahead.