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SpaceX delays first commercial satellite launch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- The entry of Space Exploration Technologies into the business of launching commercial satellites was delayed on Monday by technical glitch that sidelined the firm's Falcon 9 rocket.

The launch of the rocket, which will carry a US$100 million communications satellite owned by Luxembourg-based SES SA , was rescheduled for no earlier than Thursday, Falcon 9 product manager John Insprucker said in a launch webcast.

Previous SES satellites were launched primarily aboard Russian Proton and European Ariane rockets, which cost far more than the approximately US$55 million the company is paying for its ride on SpaceX's Falcon booster, Martin Halliwell, chief technology officer of SES, told reporters on Sunday in Cocoa Beach, Florida.

He would not say exactly how much SpaceX undercut the competition but did note that SES received a bit of a discount by agreeing to fly on Falcon 9's first mission to the high altitudes that communication satellites require.

The rocket had been slated to blast off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 5:37 p.m. EST on Monday, but delays, including a problem that cropped up less than four minutes before a final attempt to lift off, caused the mission to miss its 66-minute launch window. That prompted officials to call off the launch attempt.

SpaceX has successfully flown its Falcon 9 rocket six times previously, including on Sept. 29, when it test-launched an upgraded Falcon 9, the model that was slated for launch on Monday.

Three SpaceX rockets carried cargo capsules for NASA to the International Space Station, a US$100 billion research complex that flies about 400 km above Earth. The first two Falcon 9 mission were test flights.

The company needs three successful launches of its upgraded Falcon rocket before it will be eligible to compete to carry the U.S. military's largest and most expensive satellites, a market now monopolized by United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Privately held SpaceX is aiming for a much higher altitude with the SES launch, its first stab at breaking into a global satellite industry worth nearly US$190 billion a year.

The satellite, known as SES-8, is expected to be positioned in an elliptical orbit that reaches more than 80,000 km from Earth, about a quarter of the way to the moon.

That altitude requires less fuel for SES-8 to fly itself into its 36,000 km high operational orbit, thereby extending its service life.

SES has options for three more Falcon flights, including one on the firm's heavy-lift rocket that is under development and expected to debut next year.

SpaceX's launch manifest includes nearly 50 other launches, worth about US$4 billion. About 75 percent of the flights are for commercial customers.

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A Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket sits on Launch Complex 40 just before its launch window at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida on Monday, Nov. 25. The launch was scrubbed near the end of the launch window and will be rescheduled. (AP)

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