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NASA, SpaceX launch Dragon but glitch delays power supply

Dragon spacecraft on its way to Saturday rendezvous with space station

After a successful liftoff this morning, the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft is on its way to rendezvous with the International Space Station.

"Very excited to be back here. We're a launch company and we love to launch," said Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, before launch. "We're prepared to fly."

However, the flight hasn't been without issue.

Shortly after Dragon reached orbit, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk reported on Twitter that there was a problem with the Dragon spacecraft's thruster pods, delaying the deployment of the craft's solar array, which powers it.

"Issue with Dragon thruster pods. System inhibiting three of four from initializing. About to command inhibit override," Musk tweeted. "Holding on solar array deployment until at least two thruster pods are active."

At approximately 11:50 a.m. ET, the Dragon's solar arrays were successfully deployed.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, carrying the unmanned Dragon capsule, lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 10:10 a.m. ET today. The spacecraft, which is scheduled to rendezvous with the space station on Saturday, is ferrying 1,268 pounds of scientific experiments and supplies for the space station crew to the orbiter.

Using a robotic arm onboard the space station, two astronauts on Saturday are set to grab hold of the Dragon capsule and attach it to the station. The capsule will stay attached for about three weeks, returning to Earth on March 25.

Today's launch is the U.S. commercial mission"> second of 12 SpaceX flights contracted by NASA to resupply the space station. It also will be the third trip by a Dragon capsule to the orbiting laboratory.

After SpaceX made a demonstration flight in May 2012, it then launched the first official resupply mission last October, delivering 882 pounds of supplies.

Another successful commercial launch is an important milestone for NASA, which now depends on commercial flights since retiring the agency's fleet of space shuttles in the summer of 2011. For the foreseeable future, NASA will need commercial missions to ferry supplies, and possibly even astronauts, to the space station, while the space agency focuses on developing robotics and big engines in preparation for missions to the moon, asteroids and Mars.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is [email protected].

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

Read more about emerging technologies in Computerworld's Emerging Technologies Topic Center.


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