SpaceX delays launch of next Falcon 9 rocket after test rocket explosion
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon space craft are readied on Oct. 7, 2012 for an evening launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida (AFP)

By Irene Koltz

CAPE CANAVERAL Fla (Reuters) - Space Exploration Technologies will delay the launch of its next Falcon 9 rocket by up to two weeks following Friday’s explosion of a related prototype vehicle during a flight test, officials said on Tuesday.

The privately owned company, also known as SpaceX, had planned to launch a communications satellite owned by Hong Kong-based Asia Satellite Telecommunications Holdings Ltd early Tuesday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

On Sunday, SpaceX announced it would delay the launch of the AsiaSat 6 spacecraft for one day to review data collected during the botched test flight of a Falcon rocket demonstration vehicle that on Friday.

The Falcon 9 Reusable development vehicle, known as Falcon 9R, was outfitted with three engines and a prototype landing system the company had been developing to fly its rockets back to the launch site for refurbishment and reuse.

The Falcon 9R exploded about 17 seconds after liftoff from SpaceX’s McGregor, Texas, rocket development and testing facility, video posted on YouTube by spectators showed.

After an initial review, SpaceX cleared its nine-engine operational Falcon rocket for the AsiaSat mission, but the firm owned and operated by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk apparently had second thoughts.

The launch had been slated for 12:50 a.m. EDT/0450 GMT on Wednesday.

“We are not aware of any issue with Falcon 9, nor the interfaces with the spacecraft, but have decided to review all potential failure modes and contingencies again. We expect to complete this process in one to two weeks,” the company said in a statement released late Tuesday.

SpaceX has flown its Falcon 9 rocket 11 times, most recently on Aug. 5 to deliver the first of two AsiaSat communication satellites into orbit.

In addition to flying commercial missions, SpaceX Falcon rockets launch Dragon cargo ships to the International Space Station for NASA. The company’s next cargo run had been targeted for Sept. 19. There was no immediate word about whether the delay to the AsiaSat launch would postpone NASA’s mission as well.

(Editing by Jeremy Laurence)