Like the dramatic finale of a James Bond movie, the launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket was aborted with less than a second remaining on the countdown over the weekend, except instead of saving the world, it saved the mission from becoming a total failure.
Scheduled for a 04:55 liftoff on Saturday morning, everything had been running smoothly, from an engine test at the end of April — where the boosters were described as “rock solid” — to SpaceX’s Elon Musk tweeting just before the launch that the countdown autosequence had been initiated.
All five of the Falcon 9’s engines had fired, but one was showing abnormally high pressure, eventually reaching a point where the onboard emergency systems took over and aborted the launch — with just 0.5 seconds remaining on the clock.
A brief statement from SpaceX confirmed that a faulty check valve was to blame for the high pressure, and that repairs were underway.
Despite this setback, it’s not all over yet, as provided the repair is completed and the weather conditions favorable, SpaceX is planning a second launch attempt at 03:45 on the morning of Tuesday, May 22.
Getting the Falcon 9 in the air is only the start of this particular mission though, as the real challenge will be to dock the rocket’s capsule with the International Space Station, so it can deliver its cargo.
Orbiting 200 miles above the Earth’s surface and moving at around 17,000 miles-per-hour, the incredibly complex navigational feat of docking the two together will be performed using systems which have never been tested in space.
If the rocket’s launch had been successful, SpaceX would be on its way to becoming the first private company to reach and dock with the International Space Station.