Space flight is tricky business and it does not always come easily. SpaceX – the private space transport company founded by PayPal and Tesla Motors co-founder Elon Musk – seems to be finding this out the hard way. In 2010, SpaceX was the first private company to ever launch and successfully retrieve a spacecraft from orbit. The launch of its new Falcon 9 rocket and unmanned Dragon spacecraft – part of its plan to be able to provide cargo and staff transport to the International Space Station – has been delayed once again.
Initially planned for April 30 then pushed back to May 7, the launch is now planned for an as-yet-unspecified future date. The shift to May 7 was partially caused by the software for remote-controlling the Dragon capsule in orbit being too sensitive. As Musk told Wired last week, “essentially Dragon got scared and ran away, when it shouldn’t have.” The ISS crew does need to be able to tell the spacecraft to retreat if that becomes necessary during its approach but, obviously, hypersensitivity can be just as dangerous as its lack. SpaceX has not confirmed that this same software issue is to blame for the latest delay, but Wired thinks it is likely the culprit.
SpaceX needs NASA’s approval on both the software and hardware of the Falcon 9/Dragon system, and their test launch windows are also largely up to NASA and the orbit of the ISS. This makes May 10 the earliest possible date for the next launch attempt. Otherwise, SpaceX will probably have to wait until several days after the scheduled launch of a Soyuz rocket to the ISS on May 15.