Cracks delay SpaceX demo flight

The first demonstration flight of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 commercial spacecraft for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program has been postponed.

The launch, scheduled for today, has been postponed by at least one day, following the discovery of a crack. The launch window extends until Thursday, and the rocket remains on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral.

During a routine review of close-out photos of the rocket on Monday, SpaceX engineers discovered a three-inch crack in the engine nozzle on the rocket’s second stage.

SpaceX hasn’t yet made a decision on whether to repair the crack or ship a replacement part from California.

Known as COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) 1, the launch is the first flight of the Dragon spacecraft and the first commercial attempt to re-enter a spacecraft from orbit. It’s the first of three test launches currently planned in the Falcon 9 test flight series.

The plan is to put the rocket into orbit about 185 miles up. It should then carry out a series of maneuvers designed to test steering and navigation before reentry and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean about 500 miles west of Mexico.

The COTS program, which replaces the space shuttle program, is NASA’s new plan for carrying supplies to and from the International Space Station. Commercial flights to the ISS are due to start this time next year.

The final flight of space shuttle Discovery has also been postponed because of cracks, in that case on the ‘stringers’ or support brackets on the external tank. It will not now take place until February at the earliest.