Falcon 9 launch. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II/Spaceflight Now

Falcon 9′s commercial promise to be tested in 2013

Posted: November 17, 2012

Three international and commercial customers slated to fly satellites on Falcon 9 rockets next year are standing by SpaceX as the company probes a mysterious engine problem and prepares to debut an upgraded launcher.

SpaceX and NASA engineers are investigating the cause of an engine failure on the Falcon 9′s last flight Oct. 7. One of the first stage’s nine kerosene-fueled Merlin 1C engines shut down after a sudden loss of pressure about 79 seconds after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The rocket continued into orbit and successfully deployed SpaceX’s Dragon cargo freighter on a trek to the International Space Station. SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA for cargo resupply services to the station.

Because of safety guidelines imposed by NASA to prevent a potential collision with the space station, the Falcon 9 rocket put an Orbcomm data communications satellite in a lower-than-planned orbit. The Orbcomm spacecraft was left in an unstable orbit and re-entered the atmosphere three days after launch.

Pending the conclusion of the engine anomaly investigation, SpaceX and NASA plan to launch the next Falcon 9 rocket in March on another space station logistics mission. That mission will be the final launch of a Falcon 9 rocket in its current configuration.

Three commercial launches are next on SpaceX’s manifest.

Read more: Spaceflight Now | Breaking News | Falcon 9's commercial promise to be tested in 2013.

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