Update 6:15pm EST: An issue with the ground systems caused United Launch Alliance again. Prior to the opening of the Atlas V launch window on Wednesday evening, a problem related to ground system liquid-oxygen valves could not be resolved in time for a launch attempt from Florida.
The company will now step down for 48 hours to address the issue, allowing SpaceX to attempt a launch of a GPS III satellite for the Space Force on Thursday.
Original Post 11:25am EST: United Launch Alliance will return to one of its two main platforms at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Wednesday to try to break through a series of recent launch scrubs due to various issues, mostly related to ground systems.
The company’s Atlas V rocket will lift off at 5:54 p.m. EST (22:54 UTC) from Space Launch Complex-41, carrying a satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office. The mission is called NROL-101 and its final orbit is classified. There is a 70 percent chance of favorable conditions.
The venerable Atlas V rocket, which has flown 85 missions since its debut in 2002, will test new hardware with this flight. For the first time, the Atlas V will use solid rocket boosters built by Northrop Grumman instead of Aerojet Rocketdyne. These boosters GEM-63 cost less than the previously used booster. United Launch Alliance plans to use an expanded version of this booster, the GEM-63L, on its Vulcan rocket, which could make its maiden flight in a year or so.
Perhaps the biggest question in today’s launch attempt is whether the Atlas V rocket will take off. This mission was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but after a rollout on Monday, the company discovered a problem with a channel of an environmental control system. It may have been damaged during high winds at the launch site on Monday. After rolling back into its hangar, where the channel was being swapped, the Atlas V rocket rolled back onto the trail on Tuesday.
So far, so good — as of Wednesday morning, the company says everything is on track for an Atlas V launch later in the day.
United Launch Alliance could use a successful launch. It was a rough few months as the company struggled to launch a new mission for the National Reconnaissance Office, a key customer who pays a premium to get its expensive satellites into space.
To be launched on a Delta IV Heavy missile on a nearby trail, this NROL-44 mission has been scrubbed half a dozen times since late August. Most of these scrubs were due to problems with ground support equipment and often occurred within seconds of the scheduled launch time. This has raised questions about the aging infrastructure at the Delta launch site in Florida. No new launch date has been set yet for the mission, which the US government had hoped to go into space in June.
The company’s webcast for today’s launch should start about 20 minutes before launch.
List image by Trevor Mahlmann for Ars