CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A series of delays led NASA to postpone the launch of its new Ares 1-X rocket by 24 hours.
Clouds, snagged tethers and even a misdirected cargo ship within the danger area in the Atlantic Ocean contributed to delays in 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.
Launch Control reported that severe winds, with gusts over 20 knots and peaking at 22 knots, were a key factor that preventing the rocket launch. In addition, clouds associated with the "triboelectrification rule" slowed things down. 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."
According to Launch Control, the weather tomorrow should be somewhat better than today, with decreased cloudiness and lower winds, both on the launch pad and in the upper levels. NASA set the likelihood of launch tomorrow at 40 percent.
NASA had planned to launch initially at 8:25 a.m., but delays pushed the launch to 9:49, 10:50 and eventually outside of a narrow window of safety. Moving the launch past noon wasn't possible, due to chalenges coordinating the air space and warning zones, not to mention the weather.
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.