SpaceX Scrubs Monday Launch Attempt for Falcon 1 Rocket
SpaceX's Falcon 1 rocket is being readied for a second test launch in January 2007.
Credit: SpaceX.

The private spaceflight firm Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) will have to wait at least one more day to launch its second Falcon 1 rocket after a last-minute glitch prevented a Monday attempt.

A launch range telemetry issue cropped up less than two minutes before the Falcon 1 rocket's planned 7:45 p.m. EDT (2345 GMT) liftoff, prompting the booster to automatically halt its launch procedures, SpaceX officials said. The launch is now targeted for no earlier than Tuesday at about 7:00 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT), they added.

"The vehicle basically self-aborted," Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX's vice president for business development, told reporters after the glitch.

Shotwell said that about 90 seconds before liftoff, flight controllers typically shift their communications with the Falcon 1 rocket from a land line system to a range radio frequency (RF) at SpaceX's Omelek Island launch site on Kwajalein Atoll, which is located in the Marshall Islands on the Pacific Ocean.

"It's possible that we were not picking up the range RF signal," Shotwell said.

SpaceX has daily opportunities to launch the Falcon 1 rocket through March 22, with each day offering a four-hour flight window that opens at about 7:00 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT), the El Segundo, California-based firm has said.

The planned space shot, dubbed DemoFlight 2, is a demonstration mission for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA), which funded SpaceX's ill-fated Falcon 1 launch debut on March 24, 2006. Since that first unsuccessful test, engineers have made a series of rocket and ground support equipment improvements to prevent similar mishaps on future flights, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said.

Monday's launch attempt was initially targeting a 7:00 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT) liftoff, but a telemetry relay glitch between SpaceX's Kwajalein Atoll site and California headquarters prompted a 45-minute delay.

SpaceX's Falcon 1 rocket is a two-stage booster designed to haul payloads of up to 1,256 pounds (570 kilograms) into low-Earth orbit for about $7 million per flight. The rocket's reusable first stage is powered by SpaceX's home-grown Merlin 1 engine and designed to make a parachute landing in the Pacific Ocean after separation for later recovery and refurbishment.

Riding aboard the current Falcon 1 rocket is a 110-pound (50-kilogram) package including two experiments -- an autonomous flight safety system and a low-cost tracking and data relay satellite transmitter -- as well as mechanical adapter designed to connect satellite payloads with the booster's second stage.

DemoFlight 2 is the first of at least three Falcon 1 missions scheduled for 2007. For those subsequent flights, SpaceX is preparing to launch the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory's TacSat-1 satellite this summer, and loft the Malaysian Earth-observation satellite Razaksat later in the year.