CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A series of delays has postponed the launch of NASA's Ares rocket, originally scheduled for lift-off at 8:24 a.m. The new target is 11:18 a.m.
Launch Control reports that severe winds, with gusts over 20 knots and peaking at 22 knots, may prevent the rocket launch. In addition, clouds associated with the "triboelectrification rule" may present a snag. NASA hopes to launch within a very narrow band of clear weather.
Clouds, snagged tethers and even a misdirected cargo ship within the danger area in the Atlantic Ocean have delayed the launch of the Ares 1-X, a trial version of the rocket NASA hopes will ferry astronauts to low-Earth orbit aboard an Orion spacecraft.
While the rocket sits on a launch pad at Kennedy Space Center, the space agency scrambles to make its launch window in the face of inclement weather. Deputy launch manager John Cowart cited the "triboelectrification rule"; according to NASA's launch blog, "flying through high-level clouds can generate 'P-static' (P for precipitation), which can create a corona of static around the rocket that interferes with radio signals sent by or to the rocket."
NASA had planned to launch initially at 8:25 a.m., but delays pushed the launch to 9:49 and then to 10:50. Moving the launch past noon won't be possible, due to a combination of factors including air space, warning zones, planes on flight times. The space agency believes that risky upper-level winds shouldn't be a risk factor. There is an 8-hour launch window.
Ares 1-X Launch Control reported early this morning that NASA would enter a 20-minute hold, delaying the giant rocket's launch, and that hold has just been extended. NASA has yet to retract a probe cover, for example, in order to prevent rain from wetting vital components.The rocket sits poised at T-minus 4 minutes, reports Launch Control.
The deciding factor at present is the weather. There are no other issues being worked on beyond weather conditions, and clear conditions may not last, reports Ares 1-X Launch Control. Upper level winds may be too strong for the rocket, for example.
The test rocket includes a real solid-rocket first stage, with a mock second stage and dummy Orion crew capsule on top to simulate the intended weight and size of Ares I. Ares I-X is the tallest booster in service or about to fly and stands about 327 feet high — 14 stories taller than NASA's space shuttles.
The test flight comes at an uncertain time for NASA. The agency's plans to use the Ares I rocket and Orion capsules to replace the shuttle fleet and return astronauts to the moon by 2020 are under review by President Barack Obama's administration. Last week, a report from an independent panel appointed by the White House suggested that NASA consider scrapping the Ares I rocket in lieu of commercial rockets that could be ready sooner.
Jeremy A. Kaplan is Science and Technology editor at FoxNews.com, where he heads up coverage of gadgets, the online world, space travel, nature, the environment, and more. Prior to joining Fox, he was executive editor of PC Magazine, co-host of the Fastest Geek competition, and a founding editor of GoodCleanTech.