Atlas 5 set for Friday, Falcon 9 next Wednesday

posted by Jim Banke -

Atlas 5 sits at pad 41 awaiting launch

UPDATE for Thursday, 1:30 p.m. EDT: Both United Launch Alliance and SpaceX have clarified when their next launch attempts will be for their Atlas 5 and Falcon 9 rockets, respectively.

ULA is proceeding with plans to make another launch attempt of their Atlas 5 early Friday morning at 4:03 a.m. EDT. The current weather forecast predicts only a 30 percent chance of acceptable conditions due to the tropical wave moving its way over us.

SpaceX, meanwhile, has delayed their next Falcon 9 launch attempt from Saturday to next Wednesday. The schedule move is unrelated to the weather delays, although the company has not specified yet exactly what the reason for the delay was. Liftoff still is expected at supper time, around sunset.

The Falcon 9 move also has made it possible for the Atlas 5 team to launch on Saturday if needed.

UPDATE for Thursday, 4:15 a.m. EDT: United Launch Alliance has announced that a Friday launch attempt would take place at 4:03 a.m. EDT. Meanwhile, it's still too early for any official pronouncements, but past experience would suggest that if ULA makes an official run at launching Friday morning, it is very likely that Saturday evening's planned launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 from Kennedy Space Center would have to be bumped to Sunday.

This is because the 45th Space Wing-managed Eastern Range needs about two days between launches. However, that doesn't necessarily mean precisely 48 hours. There are a lot of variables at play here.

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United Launch Alliance has scrubbed this morning's attempt to send an Atlas 5 rocket into orbit carrying a secret satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office. Weather from the developing tropical system near Florida was the culprit. They may try again on Friday but the weather is expected to get worse.

The countdown up to the point of the scrub had gone fairly well, but a hint of things to come came when the start of fueling was delayed due to high winds at the seaside launch complex. That prompted the official launch time to be moved to the right by 15 minutes.

Then just before 3 a.m. EDT, the 45th Space Wing launch weather officer advised the ULA launch director that another band of rain and high winds was headed toward the area, which would make the continued fueling of the rocket unsafe.

The need to halt the countdown and secure the rocket, yet still have enough time to finish preparations and get off the ground before the launch window closed at 5 a.m., forced the launch team's hand and the shot was called off.

For now, meaning about 3:25 a.m. EDT Thursday, the plan is shoot for a launch attempt on Friday. But weather conditions are expected to further deteriorate, and according to the latest forecast there is only a 30 percent chance of acceptable conditions during the launch window.

Still, as we like to point out, there have been many times in the history of Cape Canaveral launch operations where the prediction was for 90 percent chance of bad weather -- yet the mission still wound up flying on time. So we'll see.

We'll update the top of this page as soon as we know something definitive.


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