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The Falcon 9 rocket, to be launched by SpaceX on a cargo re-supply service mission to the International Space Station, sits on a launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Jan. 5, 2015.

SCOTT AUDETTE/Reuters

SpaceX called off its planned flight to the International Space Station early Tuesday because of rocket trouble.

The unmanned Falcon rocket was supposed to blast off before sunrise. But the countdown was halted with just over a minute remaining. The soonest SpaceX can try again is Friday morning.

Officials said the problem was with the motors needed for second-stage rocket thrust steering. If controllers had not aborted the launch, computers would have done so closer to flight time, NASA launch commentator George Diller said.

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The Dragon capsule aboard the rocket contains more than 2,200 kilograms of supplies and experiments ordered up by NASA. That's the primary objective for SpaceX. But the California-based company was to attempt an even more extraordinary feat once the Dragon is on its way: flying the booster rocket to a platform in the Atlantic. No one has ever pulled off such a touchdown.

SpaceX's billionaire founder Elon Musk says recovering and reusing rockets could speed up launches and drive down costs.

The delivery was supposed to occur before Christmas, but was delayed because of a flawed test firing of the rocket engines. The test was repeated successfully, paving the way for Tuesday's try.

NASA's last contracted shipment ended in an explosion seconds after the October liftoff from Virginia. That company – Orbital Sciences Corp. – has grounded its rocket fleet until next year.

Aborting Tuesday's launch was also a setback for a group of B.C. students whose amateur experiment, to examine how zero gravity affects crystal growth, was one of 17 other student projects from across North America that had won a contest to be brought on board the capsule. The projects are part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, which is run by the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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