US Air Force glitch delays Falcon 9’s takeoff

9 Feb 2015

Falcon 9 awaiting takeoff yesterday, via NASA

SpaceX’s first deep space mission was delayed when a US Air Force radar malfunction caused Falcon 9’s takeoff to be hastily rescheduled at the last minute.

Falcon 9 was supposed to bring the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) – a partnership of NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – out into orbit 1m miles from Earth after a scheduled liftoff last night.

DCOVR was actually an Al Gore-supported project at the turn of the millennium, planned to provide continuous and expansive views of Earth to give us a greater understanding of global warming.

It was due to launch on the doomed Columbia mission in 2003, “but it was pulled from the manifest and put into storage after President George W Bush moved into the White House,” according to CNBC.

A 24-hour delay is not a major worry for SpaceX owner Elon Musk, however, who noted that it gives his team time to replace the first stage video transmitter. “Not needed for takeoff, but still nice to have,” he said.

Playing with fire

One of the key aspects to SpaceX’s projects have been plans to reclaim the discarded rocket engine after it disengages from the space craft.

The engine is the most expensive part of spacecraft and any way of reclaiming used engines, undamaged, would be a major step forward for operators in the spacecraft arena.

Falcon 9’s attempt to navigate the engine back to a planned point on a barge in the oceanwas successful in some degree, in that it found the right spot, but unsuccessful in another in that it was fairly wrecked on impact.

That was because it ran out of fuel, which would have helped to slow down the landing, something that Musk’s team are working hard to rectify.


However for now, launching DCOVR one million miles from Earth is the primary concern, the results of which will allow the NOAA and NASA to monitor space weather and solar wind.


DSCOVR’s planned mission, via noaasatellites on Flickr

It will be taking off tonight at 11.07 GMT, three minutes short of a full 24-hour delay – that is unless any more last minute issues arise. You can watch it live here.




Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic