SpaceX's Debut Launch of Private Space Capsule Slips to Dec. 7

New Private Space Capsule Passes Big Drop Test
The three main parachutes are seen on SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft as it descends to the Pacific Ocean during an Aug. 12, 2010 drop test from an altitude of 14,000 feet. (Image credit: Chris Thompson/SpaceX)

WASHINGTON? Space Exploration Technologies(SpaceX) has postponed a planned Nov. 20 launch of its Falcon 9 rocketandDragon space capsule to no earlier than Dec. 7, according to a companynewsrelease.

"SpaceXis targeting December 7th forthe first-ever fight of our Dragonspacecraft,with the 8th and9th as backup dates," Kirstin Brost, a spokeswoman for the Hawthorne,Calif.-basedcompany, said in a Nov. 8 e-mail. "We are submitting our request to the[U.S.] Air Force today."

Theflight, a demonstration of themedium-class rocket and Dragon cargo ship being developed under NASA?sCommercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, wasoriginallyslated to occur in September 2008. SpaceX?s COTS agreement was latermodifiedto reflect a June 2009 initial demonstration flight.

Routineresupply runs to the InternationalSpace Station were expected to follow as early as December of thisyear, buthardware development has taken longer than planned.

Brostattributedthe delayin part to a slipNASA's planned launch of Space Shuttle Discovery, which was moved to noearlierthan Nov. 30 after engineers discovered a leak in the orbiter?sexternal fueltank Nov. 5. But Brost also said SpaceX plans to run more tests of theDragoncapsule at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. [Gallery:SpaceX'sFirst Falcon 9 Rocket Launch]

"Wehave assets tied to shuttle, but wealso think that additional testing on Dragon would be valuable," shesaidin a Nov. 8 e-mail to Space News.

Meanwhile,SpaceX is still awaitingregulatoryapprovalfrom the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration(FAA) for the mission. The companysubmitted its license application more than a year ago, but the FAA isstillreviewing data on the Dragon capsule?s planned atmospheric re-entry.

InJune SpaceX conducted a successfulfight testof Falcon 9with a qualification unit of the Dragon spacecraft on board. The nextthreeFalcon 9 missions will carry an operational Dragon cargo vessel in anincreasingly complex series of demonstrations under the terms of thecompany?s$278 million COTS deal.

Thefirst such mission calls for Dragon tocomplete up to four Earth orbits, transmit telemetry data, receivecommands,maneuver, re-enter the atmosphere and make a safe water landing in thePacificOcean for recovery.

Uponsuccessful completion of the demomissions, SpaceX will begin making regular cargo-delivery runs to theinternational space station under a separate fixed-price contractvalued at$1.6 billion.

  • Gallery:SpaceX's Falcon 9 Rocket Launches on Maiden Flight,Graphic
  • Photos:Dragon Space Capsule of SpaceX
  • Top10 Fantasy Spaceships Becoming Reality

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SpaceNews Staff Writer

Amy Klamper is a space reporter and former staff writer for the space industry news publication SpaceNews. From 2004 to 2010, Amy covered U.S. space policy, NASA and space industry professionals for SpaceNews. Her stories included profiles on major players in the space industry, space policy work in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as national policy set by the White House.