The first attempt by SpaceX to launch a satellite into geostationary orbit has been put on hold after a number of technical problems left its Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad.
The SpaceX team had a 66-minute launch window for Monday's rocket trip, and halted the countdown at T-13 minutes after engineers discovered a problem with a valve on the first stage of the rocket. A new launch time was set for 6:30pm ET but the countdown was stopped at three minutes and 40 seconds.
The clock was wound back and paused again at six minutes and 11 seconds to go while another issue was investigated; the timer was set to 13 minutes while the telemetry unit on a power supply was reset. After a 20-minute pause the clock was restarted at 18 minutes and 23 minutes, but the countdown was paused at three minutes and 40 seconds.
SpaceX has successfully completed delivery of satellites into low-Earth orbit, and resupplied the International Space Station. However, delivering a payload into geostationary orbit is a much tougher prospect, and requires multiple ignitions to complete its task.
The SpaceX plan is for nine Merlin engines in the first stage to push the rocket into the vacuum of space with three minutes of thrust before shutting down and detaching. The second stage, with just a single Merlin rocket engine, then fires off two burns to get the satellite to the desired orbit.
The Falcon 9 rocket payload is a 3,138 kg (6,918 lbs) communications satellite built for SES, which already has 54 similar birds in geostationary orbit. The new device was been built to add capacity for Chinese and Far Eastern customers of the communications company, and successfully getting it into orbit is key to SpaceX's ambitions to be a major player in rocketry.
The next shot at a launch is now scheduled to take place at 1738 ET, Thursday, November 28 - Thanksgiving Day. ®
Geostationary orbit is also known as the Clarke orbit, after the science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke who worked out how high one would need to travel to reach a point where the rotation of the Earth would keep a satellite in a seemingly fixed position to ground observers. Some also call it the Money Ring, as it is the most lucrative commercial space destination.