CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The long-awaited first demonstration flight of a new commercial spacecraft -- the SpaceX Dragon capsule -- has been delayed to Wednesday at the earliest because of a crack in an upper-stage rocket engine nozzle.
SpaceX had planned to launch Dragon on top of its Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Tuesday morning. But during a Monday review of photos of the rocket, engineers found a three-inch-long crack in a weld joint of the nozzle in the rocket's second stage.
A NASA news release said SpaceX is considering several options, including repairing the crack or shipping a replacement part from SpaceX headquarters in Southern California.
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said that if the nozzle had to be replaced, the launch could slip to Friday or Saturday.
This will be Falcon 9's second flight and the first for an active Dragon capsule, which is designed to deliver up to 13,000 pounds of cargo to the International Space Station. After launch, Dragon is slated to orbit the Earth as many as four times -- to test steering, communications and other components -- before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.
If successful, the mission will mark the first time that a commercial company has launched a spacecraft into orbit and returned it to Earth. Until now, that's been done by only five governments: the United States, Russia, China, Japan and India.
Ultimately, SpaceX hopes the capsule will win approval to take humans to the space station, a job that NASA will cede to the Russians after the space shuttle is retired next year.
The mission is also the first under a NASA demonstration program to develop the capability for commercial vehicles to deliver cargo to the space station for most of this decade. SpaceX says Dragon will be ready by 2011.
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