* Dragon cargo capsule unaffected by rocket problem
* Orbcomm prototype communications satellite missed itsorbit
* Falcon 9 rocket had engine problems during ascent By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Oct 9 - A prototype communicationssatellite flying as a secondary payload aboard a SpaceExploration Technologies Falcon 9 rocket was sent into the wrongorbit because of a problem during launch Sunday evening,officials said Tuesday.
One of the nine Merlin engines powering the Falcon 9 rocketshut down early, though the other engines burned longer to makeup for the loss of thrust, saving the primary mission ofdelivering a Dragon cargo capsule to the International SpaceStation for NASA.
The rocket blasted off at 8:35 p.m. EDT Sunday (0035 GMTMonday) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida,restoring a U.S. supply line to the $100 billion orbitaloutpost, a project of 15 nations, following the end of theshuttle program last year.
The Dragon freighter is due to arrive at the space station,which flies about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth, on Wednesday.
Space Exploration Technologies said its rocket, which wascreated by Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk and his team atSpaceX, as the company is known, could lose two engines andstill make its intended orbit.
"Like the Saturn 5 (moon rocket) and modern airliners,Falcon 9 is designed to handle an engine-out situation and stillcomplete its mission. No other rocket currently flying has thisability," privately owned SpaceX said in a statement.
But that flexibility didn't help satellite communicationsprovider Orbcomm, which owned a prototype OG2 communicationssatellite flying aboard the Falcon 9.
The satellite was deposited in a lower-than-intended orbit,Orbcomm said in a statement.
The company declined to release details, but Jonathan'sSpace Report, a website that tracks space launches, says Orbcommexpected its satellite to be placed into an elliptical orbitwith a low point of 217 miles (350 km) and a high point of 466miles (750 km) from Earth. That would later become a circularorbit at 466 miles (750 km) from Earth.
Instead, it ended up in an orbit that ranges from 126 miles(203 km) to 200 miles (323 km).
Orbcomm said an analysis has begun to determine if thesatellite can use its onboard propulsion system to boost itsorbit.
"Orbcomm will not be able to get to its operational 750 x750 kilometer orbit, but there's a chance they'll get a fewmonth's of system tests out of it," concludes Jonathan McDowell,a Harvard University astrophysicist who publishes the SpaceReport.
The company still plans to launch 17 more OG2 satellites ontwo Falcon 9 rockets in 2013 and 2014.
Those spacecraft will be primary payloads and delivereddirectly into their operational orbits, Orbcomm said.
SpaceX declined to release financial details of its contractwith Orbcomm, and Orbcomm did not respond to requests forcomment.
(Editing by Jane Sutton and Philip Barbara)
((Irene Klotz 321 432-0220))Keywords: SPACE SPACEX/