Saturday, November 14, 2009

Live At The Cape: Atlas Slips Beyond Shuttle Launch

An Atlas rocket will be rolled back to its assembly building so technicians can resolve a problem with a signal relayer, and the move will force United Launch Alliance to slip its satellite-delivery mission until after the planned launch Monday of shuttle Atlantis.

The 19-story Atlas and its payload - a commercial communications satellite -- had been slated to blast off fro Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:48 a.m. today.

Those plans were thwarted when an electronic assembly that routes signals to stage separation detonators suffered a momentary power glitch -- a 50-millisecond power cycle. Engineers could not determine the cause of the glitch and recommended canceling the today's attempt. Launch managers concurred.

Known by the acronym ORCA, the Ordnance Remote Control Assemblies are designed to send signals to small explosives that are used to separate the Atlas first stage and Centaur upper stage as well as the Centaur upper stage and the rocket's payload. In this case, the Atlas is carrying an Intelsat commercial communications satellite.

The rocket's stages must separate properly, and the spacecraft must separate from the Centaur upper stage, in order for a multimillion-dollar satellite-delivery mission to be a success.

United Launch Alliance will move the Atlas V from its pad at Launch Complex 41 to the nearby Vertical Integration Facility, where the vehicle is assembled. Engineers will remove the faulty electronics unit and troubleshoot the problem before determining a course of action. It's likely the faulty electronics unit will be replaced.

The company will be unable to resolve the problem in time to make a launch attempt early Sunday. NASA's shuttle Atlantis and six astronauts are scheduled to launch from Kennedy Space Center on Monday and will have back-up opportunities on Tuesday and Wednesday. It appears the earliest the Atlas V might launch would be later in the week.

The mission will be the fifth Atlas V flight of the year and the 19th in Atlas V program history.

ABOUT THE IMAGE: Click to enlarge the United Launch Alliance image of the Atlas V rocket bathed in xenon floodlights at Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. You can also click the enlarged image to get an even bigger, more detailed view. Photo credit: Pat Corkery/United Launch Alliance.

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