The United Launch Alliance's next rocket launch has been delayed indefinitely, as the company continues to investigate an engine malfunction that occurred on its last flight. The upcoming mission, which will send up a military communications satellite on top of an Atlas V rocket, was originally scheduled for May 5th. It was then postponed to May 12th because of the investigation, but now there's no launch date attached until the root of the last flight's problem is figured out.
The main engine on the Atlas V shut down six seconds earlier than expected
That previous mission was significant, since ULA's Atlas V transported a cargo capsule filled with supplies to the International Space Station. During the rocket's climb into orbit, the main engine on the Atlas V shut down six seconds earlier than expected. Then, once the vehicle separated in space, as it's designed to do, the engine on the top portion of the rocket had to burn a little longer to compensate. That helped to boost the capsule the rest of the way up to its intended orbit.
The cargo spacecraft made it to the ISS like it was supposed to, but ULA has formed a review team to figure out what happened, the company said in a statement. ULA says that the problem has been traced back to the fueling system for the main engine — the RD-180. The review will involve creating a timeline of how the malfunction occurred and determine whether or not any changes need to be made to future missions to ensure the problem won't happen again.
This anomaly is out of the ordinary for ULA, which is known for its launch reliability. Since it was founded 2006, the company has sent 106 rockets into space and boasts close to a 100 percent launch success rating. The malfunction may be small, but it's one of the first issues ULA has experienced after years of near-perfect spaceflight.