Space mission glitch may stay secret

March 5, 2013 at 5:03 PM

HAWTHORNE, Calif., March 5 (UPI) -- The reasons why a technical glitch delayed a SpaceX capsule's docking with the International Space Station may remain secret because of U.S. laws, experts say.

When SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, Calif., launched a Dragon capsule March 1 to carry supplies to the station, its thrusters developed problems that ground engineers had to overcome, delaying the capsule's docking with the ISS by one day.

SpaceX said it would investigate the malfunction, but it will be restricted in what it can publicly reveal by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations that list commercial capsules like Dragon as munitions, NewScientist.com reported Tuesday.

The U.S. regulations put in place in 1999 are intended to keep technology that could be used in advanced ballistic weapons out of the hands of countries such as China, Iran and North Korea.

"SpaceX will know what went wrong, regardless of ITAR," SpaceX spokeswoman Christina Ra said. "ITAR regulates what we can share."

Commercial space-industry firms, led by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation in Washington, are campaigning to have ITAR relaxed.

"Certainly NASA will find out what happened with SpaceX," Alex Saltman, CSF executive director, said. "And I think there's value to the community in learning about what happened so that people can avoid similar problems in the future."

"Being able to share best practices is important in any industry, and you don't want to put any undue restrictions on that capability."

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