Friday, May 06, 2011

Atlas Count Under Way But Forecast Degrades

The countdown to an Atlas V rocket launch is under way at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station today, but the forecast for an afternoon liftoff is degrading.

The 19-story rocket and its payload -- a new-generation missile-warning satellite -- are slated to blast off during a window that will extend from 2:14 p.m. to 2:54 p.m.

The weather forecast calls for a 40 percent chance conditions will be acceptable for launch. That's down from a 60 percent chance yesterday and an 80 percent chance earlier this week.

The prime concern is the possibility of winds from the west pushing electrically charged clouds and possibly lightning into the area during the window. That would be a violation of several launch commit criteria. Flying in those conditions could trigger bolts of lightning that could destroy the rocket and its $1.2 billion payload.

The rocket and the Space-Based Infrared System spacecraft nonetheless are being powered up at Launch Complex 41. Routine pre-launch checks will take place during the next several hours and the rocket is scheduled to be fueled for flight beginning at 12:21 p.m.

The frontal boundary pushing storms toward the east-central coast is expected to sweep through the area later today. The probability of acceptable weather for launch attempts on Saturday and Sunday are 90 and 80 percent, respectively.

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