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Falcon 9 rocket launch aborted

A glitch just before liftoff has delayed the maiden voyage of the privately owned Falcon 9 rocket.

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The brand new commercial Falcon 9 rocket experienced an unexpected glitch just before liftoff during its first flight test Friday, stalling what was to be its maiden launch.

The Falcon 9 rocket, built by private company Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), was slated to blast off at 1:30 p.m. EDT (1530 GMT) from its seaside launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

An "out of limits start up parameter" caused the rocket to abort launch just before its planned liftoff, SpaceX commentator Robyn Ringuette said.

"There still may be a chance to recycle the count and try again today," Ringuette said.

All systems initially appeared to function as designed, though the launch was delayed past an initial 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) target by a series of issues. A problem with the telemetry system, which enables the launch team to track the rocket from afar. SpaceX was able to resolve that issue by moving a strongback structure on the launch pad that was blocking the signal.

Then, word came from the U.S. Air Force that a boat had strayed into the safety range on the Atlantic Ocean over which the Falcon 9 rocket would fly during its trip to space. The liftoff was further delayed to allow time for the boat to be cleared away to safety.

Beforehand SpaceX officials said they were confident of the vehicle.

"I think everyone at this point feels pretty confident," SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk told reporters Thursday. "There's very little that we could do to improve the rocket as far as reliability is concerned. We've done everything we can possibly think of."

However, he acknowledged that malfunctions are very common for untried rockets and that test flights often go wrong, and predicted only a 70 to 80 percent chance of success. SpaceX's first rocket, the smaller Falcon 1, suffered three false starts before successfully reaching orbit on its fourth launch try.

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The vehicle already has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to haul cargo to the International Space Station, and may one day carry astronauts as well.

A major malfunction or mishap could affect support for President Barack Obama's plan to shift responsibility for ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station to the commercial space sector.

"If they blow up on the pad, Obama's lost it," space policy expert Roger Handberg, a political scientist at the University of Central Florida, said of the administration's chances of getting the proposal through Congress.

The 178-foot (54-meter) tall liquid-fueled booster was topped with a mockup of the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company's Dragon capsule, which is planned to carry cargo, and eventually crew, to space.

This SPACE.com graphic shows how the Falcon 9 rocket compares with NASA's shuttles and other spacecraft.

Falcon 9 was slated to travel eastward off the pad to orbit about 155 miles (250 km) above Earth.

SpaceX has stressed that errors during a test flight are really just learning experiences, enabling them to ultimately design a better rocket. A mishap does not affect the long-term prospects of the commercial or the private space industry in general, Musk said.

"Tomorrow's launch should not be a verdict on the viability of commercial space," Musk said Thursday. "Commercial space is the only way forward," he said, because of the limited budget of governmental space programs.

Ultimately, SpaceX plans to reuse most elements of their spacecraft to cut down costs and make space affordable for more civilians to travel beyond Earth.

"Unless we can make dramatic improvements to the cost and reliability of space transport and make it closer to air transport, it will only ever be a small number of launches that take place every year at extreme expense," Musk said.

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Click here for SPACE.com's live coverage of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket test flight.

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