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Updated: SpaceX Rocket Engine Shutdown Affects Satellite Deployment

[Photo credit: NASA/Tony Gray and Rick Wetherington]
[Photo credit: NASA/Tony Gray and Rick Wetherington]

The Falcon 9 Rocket achieved its main objective on Sunday night: getting a spacecraft bound for the International Space Station into orbit. But a problem with one of the engines meant the rocket's secondary payload, a communications satellite, is now flying at a lower altitude than planned.

Orbcomm said Monday the rocket wasn't able to complete a second burn for safety reasons after the engine shutdown, which meant its prototype second-generation satellite was not deployed at the right altitude.

The New Jersey based company said engineers from Orbcomm and Sierra Nevada Corp, which built the satellite, are working to see if it can use its on-board propulsion to lift it into operational orbit.

Orbcomm plans to send 18 of its satellites into space using Falcon 9 rockets in 2013 and 2014.

SpaceX says it appears one of the Falcon 9 engines lost pressure, triggering a shutdown one minute and 19 seconds after lift off on Sunday night. 

Footage of the launch appears to show debris falling from the rocket just over a minute after it lifted off from Cape Canaveral.

"We know the engine did not explode because we continued to receive data from it," read a statement released by the company Monday.

"Our review indicates that the fairing that protects the engine from aerodynamic loads ruptured due to the engine pressure release, and that none of Falcon 9’s other eight engines were impacted by this event."

The Falcon 9 rocket is designed to keep flying even with the loss of more than one engine, and SpaceX says the engine failure had no effect on the Dragon spacecraft or the resupply mission to the International Space Station.

SpaceX says it will keep reviewing flight data to figure out the cause of the problem and apply those lessons to future missions.

The company aims to eventually use its Dragon spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS.

This mission is the first of 12 unmanned cargo flights contracted by NASA.

Dragon is scheduled to dock with the ISS on Wednesday. Return to earth is targeted for October 28th.


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