Wayward sailboat scrubs multi-million Antares launch to ISS
WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, Va. — The weather at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia – could not have been more perfect, with a 98 percent chance of favorable conditions for launch. Similarly, the Antares launch vehicle itself was primed and ready for flight. However, there will be no flight of Antares tonight – due to a sailboat. The boat drifted into the rocket’s path downrange. After attempts to contact the vessel’s occupants failed, the launch team at Wallops’ Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) – were forced to call a scrub.
Just a few minutes prior to launch, at around 6:38 p.m. EDT (2238 GMT) it was announced that the launch team would remain in the built-in 12 minute hold as efforts were made to get the boat and its occupants out of the way. The Antares rocket was poised ready to fly in a south-easterly direction.
As noted, the rocket’s trajectory – would have placed it directly in the path of the sailboat – forcing a scrub in case the rocket’s flight had to be aborted – and potentially striking the sail craft.
Launch is now slated to take place no-earlier-than 6:22:38 p.m. EDT (2222 GMT) on Tuesday, Oc. 28. As with tonight’s attempt, NASA and Orbital have 10 minutes within the launch window to get the rocket and its payload off the pad – and into the evening skies.
Tonight’s delay comes on the heels of a series of other launch delays which have pushed the launch back from a planned liftoff date of Sept. 21. The most serious cause of this delay – was Hurricane Gonzalo – which struck Bermuda as a Category 2 hurricane. A tracking station, critical to monitor Antares’ flight, is located on that island, forcing a delay to determine if any damage had been inflicted because of the storm (none was).
Following this, NASA and Orbital Sciences Corporation, the manufacturer of both Antares and the SS Deke Slayton, Cygnus, spacecraft and its 5,000 lbs (2268 kilograms) of cargo set the launch date for Oct. 27.
This will mark the third operational flight of the Antares / Cygnus duo to the ISS as part of the $1.9 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract that the Dulles, Virginia-based aerospace company has with NASA. Orbital is contracted to carry out some eight supply runs to the orbiting laboratory. Company officials expressed their displeasure about the irresponsible actions which caused tonight’s scrub.
“…a sailboat captain…a sailboat ‘operator,’ I should say, as captain implies a sense of responsibility,” said Orbital’s Vice President and General Manager Frank Culbertson.
After the scrub was declared, NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility issued the following statement:
The launch this evening was postponed because of a boat in the mariner avoidance area. While we are disappointed, as you are, public safety is paramount to us when conducting a rocket launch. Pre-determined safety rules are established and we don’t launch unless all criteria are met. Antares is now rescheduled for 6:22 p.m. EDT, Tuesday, Oct. 28.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.