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SpaceX Says Cargo Mission to Space Station Back Online

The engines on a Space Exploration Technologies Corp. unmanned spacecraft are working again after a post-launch glitch that will delay a cargo delivery to the International Space Station by at least a day.

Elon Musk, chief executive officer of the Hawthorne, California-based company known as SpaceX, announced the engine problem in a Twitter posting about a half hour after today’s 10:10 a.m. launch of the Dragon craft from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Three of the four groups of engines known as thrusters didn’t initially activate. After the ship orbited in space for about five hours, SpaceX was able to turn on a second set and regain control, Musk said. The rest were activated later, he said.

“It looks like we’re going to be back on track here,” Musk said during a press conference organized by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The ship was supposed to link up with the station tomorrow. That rendezvous was delayed until March 3 at the earliest, said Michael Suffredini, NASA’s program manager for the space station.

The agency requires at least three sets of thrusters on the craft to be working to connect with the space station, Suffredini said.

Fuel Valve

Musk said a preliminary review suggests the malfunction may have stemmed from a blocked or stuck fuel valve. He announced that the engines were coming back online about 3 p.m. East Coast time in a Twitter posting.

“Pods 1 and 4 now online and thrusters engaged,” he tweeted. “Dragon transitioned from free drift to active control. Yes!!”

James Oberg, a space consultant in Dickinson, Texas, and a former mission-control specialist for NASA, described the malfunction as a “routine contingency” and one “that all good flight-control teams prepare for.”

With one set of engines, the supply craft still managed to successfully deploy its solar arrays, which supply electrical power.

The craft was launched from a Falcon rocket. It is carrying more than 1,200 pounds of scientific experiments, food and other cargo. It’s scheduled to return March 25 with more than 2,300 pounds of equipment.

The mission is the company’s second regular cargo delivery and third trip to the space station. SpaceX completed its first resupply mission in October following a test flight in May. The company has a $1.6 billion contract with the NASA for at least a dozen resupply flights.

NASA is relying on SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp., based in Dulles, Virginia, to help resupply the station after retiring its shuttle fleet in 2011. The agency depends on Russia to carry astronauts to space at about $63 million per seat.

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