By Irene and Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - Space Exploration Technologies, also known as SpaceX, plans to try again on Monday to launch its first commercial communications satellite after its Falcon 9 rocket was twice sidelined by technical issues, officials said.
Liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket and a 3.5-ton (3,175 kg) communications satellite owned by Luxembourg-based SES S.A. was targeted for 5:41 p.m. EST (2241 GMT) on Monday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
An onboard computer automatically aborted launch seconds before liftoff on Thursday when it detected the first-stage engine wasn't ramping up thrust levels as quickly as expected.
The rocket was returned to its processing hangar for inspections. Engineers discovered that oxygen had gotten inside the rocket's ground-based engine igniter system.
"Rocket engines are healthy, but cleaning turbopump gas generators will take another day," company founder and chief executive Elon Musk posted on Twitter.
The rocket's nine Merlin first-stage engines use a hypergolic igniter fluid called triethylaluminum-triethylborane, or TEA-TEB. A previous launch attempt on November 25 was called off after several technical glitches, including an issue with the rocket's first-stage liquid oxygen pressurization system.
"Want to be super careful," Musk wrote on Twitter after the scrub.
The privately owned firm is looking to extend its successful six-flight Falcon 9 record with its first launch to the orbits used by communications satellites.
The SES-8 satellite aboard the Falcon 9, for example, is expected to fly more than 22,300 miles above Earth and provide television, cable, broadband and other services to customers in India, China, Vietnam and elsewhere in South Asia.
SpaceX previously flew three missions for NASA to fly cargo to the International Space Station, which orbits about 250 miles above Earth, and three test flights, including a September 29 launch of an upgraded Falcon 9 rocket.
SES is paying SpaceX about $55 million for the launch, a fraction of what competitors in Russia and Europe charge for rides on Proton and Ariane rockets.
SES-8 is the first commercial communications satellite to be launched from Cape Canaveral in four years.
In the 1980s, the United States dominated the commercial launch industry, now worth about $6.5 billion a year, a report by the Satellite Industry Association trade organization showed.
Overall, revenue from the global satellite industry was $190 billion in 2012, the association's report said.
SpaceX has a backlog of nearly 50 launches worth about $4 billion, including 10 more space station cargo runs for NASA.
Most of the rest of SpaceX's manifest are launches for commercial customers, like SES, which operates the world's second-largest fleet of communications satellites, and Intelsat, the largest fleet operator.
Besides staking a claim in the commercial launch business, SpaceX wants to break the monopoly United Launch Alliance - a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed Martin - has on launching reconnaissance and communications satellites for the U.S. military.
SpaceX needs three successful flights of its upgraded Falcon booster to be eligible to compete for the military's launch business. Monday's launch with the SES satellite would be the second.
(Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Nick Zieminski)
- communications satellite