(Bloomberg) Space Exploration Technologies Corp.'s cargo supply trip to the International Space Station had a bumpy start after engines malfunctioned on the unmanned craft.
Elon Musk, chief executive officer of the Hawthorne, California-based company known as SpaceX, announced the problem in a Twitter posting about a half hour after today's 10:10 a.m. launch of the Dragon spacecraft from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Three of the four groups of engines known as thrusters didn't activate. SpaceX will need to control at least two sets of thrusters on the ship to link up with the space station, said James Oberg, a space consultant in Dickinson, Texas, and a former mission-control specialist for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
"They need two opposite pods working to change its flight path," he said in a telephone interview. "If they cannot make those maneuvers, they will pass under the station."
Oberg described the malfunction as a "routine contingency" and one "that all good flight-control teams prepare for."
The supply craft managed to successfully deploy its solar arrays, which supply electrical power to the ship. Even so, George Diller, a NASA spokesman, said it's "undetermined" whether the ship is still on track to rendezvous with the space station tomorrow as planned.
"They're still working through the problem," he said in a telephone interview.
The craft was launched from a Falcon rocket. After reaching orbit, it had a problem with "a propellant valve," according to an e-mailed statement from Christina Ra, a SpaceX spokeswoman.
"One thruster pod is running," she said. "We are trying to bring up the remaining three. We did go ahead and get the solar arrays deployed. Once we get at least two pods running, we will begin a series of burns to get to station."
The capsule is carrying more than 1,200 pounds of scientific experiments, food and other cargo. It's scheduled to return March 25 with more than 2,300 pounds of equipment.
The mission is the company's second regular cargo delivery and third trip to the space station. SpaceX completed its first resupply mission in October following a test flight in May. The company has a $1.6 billion contract with the NASA for at least a dozen resupply flights.
NASA is relying on SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. (ORB), based in Dulles, Virginia, to help resupply the station after retiring its shuttle fleet in 2011. The agency depends on Russia to carry astronauts to space at about $63 million per seat.