SpaceX's Debut Launch of Private Space Capsule Slips to Dec. 7
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.
Credit: Chris Thompson/SpaceX

WASHINGTON ? Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has postponed a planned Nov. 20 launch of its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon space capsule to no earlier than Dec. 7, according to a company news release.

"SpaceX is targeting December 7th for the first-ever fight of our Dragon spacecraft, with the 8th and 9th as backup dates," Kirstin Brost, a spokeswoman for the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company, said in a Nov. 8 e-mail. "We are submitting our request to the [U.S.] Air Force today."

The flight, a demonstration of the medium-class rocket and Dragon cargo ship being developed under NASA?s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, was originally slated to occur in September 2008. SpaceX?s COTS agreement was later modified to reflect a June 2009 initial demonstration flight.

Routine resupply runs to the International Space Station were expected to follow as early as December of this year, but hardware development has taken longer than planned.

Brost attributed the delay in part to a slip NASA's planned launch of Space Shuttle Discovery, which was moved to no earlier than Nov. 30 after engineers discovered a leak in the orbiter?s external fuel tank Nov. 5. But Brost also said SpaceX plans to run more tests of the Dragon capsule at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. [Gallery: SpaceX's First Falcon 9 Rocket Launch]

"We have assets tied to shuttle, but we also think that additional testing on Dragon would be valuable," she said in a Nov. 8 e-mail to Space News.

Meanwhile, SpaceX is still awaiting regulatory approval from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the mission. The company submitted its license application more than a year ago, but the FAA is still reviewing data on the Dragon capsule?s planned atmospheric re-entry.

In June SpaceX conducted a successful fight test of Falcon 9 with a qualification unit of the Dragon spacecraft on board. The next three Falcon 9 missions will carry an operational Dragon cargo vessel in an increasingly complex series of demonstrations under the terms of the company?s $278 million COTS deal.

The first such mission calls for Dragon to complete up to four Earth orbits, transmit telemetry data, receive commands, maneuver, re-enter the atmosphere and make a safe water landing in the Pacific Ocean for recovery.

Upon successful completion of the demo missions, SpaceX will begin making regular cargo-delivery runs to the international space station under a separate fixed-price contract valued at $1.6 billion.

  • Gallery: SpaceX's Falcon 9 Rocket Launches on Maiden Flight, Graphic
  • Photos: Dragon Space Capsule of SpaceX
  • Top 10 Fantasy Spaceships Becoming Reality

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