Forget Matthew, It's Nicole Delaying the Return to Flight of Antares-UPDATE

Forget Matthew, It's Nicole Delaying the Return to Flight of Antares-UPDATE

Update, October 14:   NASA/Wallops PAO Keith Koehler reports that there was little damage to the tracking station and final testing remains scheduled for tomorrow.  Launch is still on for Sunday, October 16, at 8:03 pm ET, as of now.

Original Story, October 11, 2016: Orbital ATK’s return to flight of the Antares rocket has been delayed again.  The new launch date is Sunday, October 16, at 8:03 pm ET.  Last week’s concerns that Hurricane Matthew might impact the launch site at Wallops Island, VA have given way to new worries that Tropical Storm Nicole will affect a critical tracking site on Bermuda.  Nicole is expected to reach hurricane status by the time it arrives there.  Ironically, a hurricane also delayed the last Antares launch, which failed two years ago this month.

The launch date for this cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS), Orbital ATK-5 (OA-5), has been delayed many times this year.  It is the first Antares launch since an October 28, 2014 failure that was traced to one of the Russian-built NK-33/AJ26 rocket engines. Orbital ATK decided to replace those engines for all Antares rockets with new Russian RD-181 engines.  Technical challenges in doing that slipped the launch, originally expected in the spring, until now. 

The October 28 failure was of the Orb-3 cargo mission to ISS.  At the time, the company was Orbital Sciences Corporation and its ISS cargo missions were designated “Orb.”  As the number implies, it was the third operational cargo mission for that company, which later merged with ATK and is now Orbital ATK.  Orbital ATK has launched two cargo flights, OA-4 and OA-6, to ISS in the interim, using United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets instead of Antares.

In a twist of fate, the Orb-3 launch also was delayed by a hurricane hitting Bermuda — Gonzalo.

Most recently, the Antares return-to-flight mission was scheduled for October 13, but slipped to October 14 because of minor technical issues and preparations for Hurricane Matthew, whose path was difficult to forecast and could have come up the East Coast.  (Instead, it caused wind and storm surge damage in Florida and then dealt a punishing blow to North and South Carolina with rain).

Having dodged that bullet, however, the launch is now being affected by Tropical Storm Nicole.  It does not threaten the U.S. East Coast, but is headed towards Bermuda and is forecast to reach hurricane status before it arrives there on October 13.

“The tracking station at Bermuda is required to conduct the Antares launch from Wallops,” said Steven Kremer, chief of the Wallops Range and Mission Management Office. The threat to not only the tracking station itself, but Bermuda’s overall infrastructure, are of concern.  Once the storm passes, a damage assessment will be performed, mission readiness will be tested, and the site will be brought back to operational status NASA said in a press release today.

Two pre-launch briefings that were scheduled for tomorrow, October 12, also have been postponed.  They now will take place on Saturday, October 15, at 4:00 pm ET (science) and 6:00 pm ET (mission status).  They will be aired on NASA TV. 

If the launch takes place on Sunday, October 16, at 8:03 pm ET, NASA TV coverage will begin at 7:00 pm ET.

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