HOVER ROCKET space station podule mission LIGHTNING HOLD DRAMA

Stop the clock - no seriously, stop the clock! boffins yell

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NASA has postponed today's launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket – loaded up with supplies for the International Space Station, including a new espresso coffee machine – after an approaching storm started blasting out. The craft was set to liftoff about an hour ago from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The team were less than four minutes from launch when the "hold, hold, hold" order was issued by mission controllers. There appeared to be some confusion as the countdown continued to tick down for a few seconds while the hold order was yelled over the radio.

NASA had given the launch a 60 per cent chance of success given the weather conditions. A storm was approaching the launch pad, and the agency's rules on rocket launches in bad weather are very strict – for example, thunderstorms must be at least 10 miles away from the site before a green light is given.

SpaceX was hampered by the fact that it only had a launch window of a few seconds for Monday's flight. Any later and the mission wouldn’t have had the right orbital trajectory to reach the International Space Station within a reasonable timeframe and fuel load.

SpaceX's Musketeers are no doubt gutted at the delay. The landing barge "Just Read the Instructions" was in position in calm seas waiting for the first stage of the Falcon rocket to attempt a landing. Even then Musk only gave the attempt a 50 per cent chance of success.

The Falcon is designed to split into two halves, with the lower stage falling to Earth and landing vertically on a barge at sea. The upper half is supposed to continue to the space station, carrying cargo in its Dragon capsule.

The launch window has now been reset for Tuesday at 1610 ET (2010 UTC, 1310 PDT) and the team will again have just a few seconds leeway to light the fires and get off the launch pad. ®


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