CAPE CANAVERAL — A commercial craft carrying a ton of supplies for the International Space Station ran into thruster trouble shortly after liftoff Friday. Flight controllers gained control, but were forced to delay its arrival at the orbiting lab.
The earliest the Dragon capsule could show up is Sunday, a day late, said officials for NASA and the private company SpaceX.
"We're definitely not going to rush it," said SpaceX founder Elon Musk. "We want to make sure first and foremost that things are safe before proceeding."
The Dragon, owned and operated by SpaceX, holds science experiments for the space station as well as food and spare parts.
Musk said six hours into the flight that all four sets of thrusters were working. "All systems green," he reported via Twitter. The problem may have been caused by a stuck valve or a line blockage. The thrusters are small rockets used for maneuvering the capsule.
An hour later, the Dragon was raised with the thrusters to a safe altitude. "Dragon back on track," Musk tweeted.
It was the first serious trouble to strike a Dragon in orbit. None of the four previous unmanned flights had any thruster issues, Musk told reporters. He said it appeared to be a glitch rather than a major concern.
SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to make a dozen deliveries to restock the space station. This is the third trip by a Dragon capsule to the station.
NASA space station program manager Mike Suffredini said at least three groups of thrusters on the Dragon need to work before the capsule can come close to the complex. That's a safety rule that will not be waived, he said.
Engineers for both SpaceX and NASA plan an exhaustive study before allowing the rendezvous to take place. The Dragon could hang around at least a month before linking up with the station, Musk said.
SpaceX is in charge of the flight until it gets near the space station. Then NASA calls the shots.