High Winds Thwart Launch of European Weather Satellite
A Soyuz-2 rocket carrying the MetOp-A weather satellite stands poised to launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome on Oct. 17, 2006. The attempt was scrubbed secons before liftoff.
Credit: Eumetsat.

DARMSTADT, Germany -- The launch of Europe's MetOp-A weather satellite was delayed for the second straight day Oct. 18 because of high winds above the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch site in Kazakhstan, launch officials said. A new attempt will be made on Oct. 19.

It was the fifth straight scrub of the launch since July. Three attempts to launch MetOp-A aboard a new version of Russia's venerable Soyuz rocket were scrapped that month because of sensor false alarms on the new, all-digital network installed at the launch installation and the rocket.

Launch officials spent three months testing the ground installation and its connections to the modified Soyuz, called the Soyuz 2-1a [image], but an Oct. 17 attempt was aborted one minute and 10 seconds before launch when a ground sensor signaled low pressure in the rocket's upper-stage fuel tank.

Officials from Starsem, the French-Russian company that manages Soyuz commercial launches, said Oct. 18 that the sensor warning was erroneous; there had been no problem with the upper stage's fuel pressure.

This new, digital version of Soyuz was first tested at northern Russia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome in November 2004 and worked without incident. The same system is being used for the first time at the Baikonur site for the Metop-1 launch.

The 4,085-kilogram MetOp-A will be Europe's first polar-orbiting meteorological satellite and also will inaugurate a long-term cooperation with U.S. civil and military authorities on weather monitoring. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Defense Department are partners in the future U.S. polar-orbiting weather satellite system and are sharing responsibility for a trans-Atlantic polar-orbiting system with Europe's EUMETSAT organization, headquartered here.

Three identical MetOp satellites are being built by a large contracting team led by Astrium of Europe. They will be launched at four-year intervals. Each carries 11 observing instruments.

The MetOp program, financed principally by EUMETSAT with a 25 percent contribution by the European Space Agency, is budgeted at 2.4 billion euros ($3 billion).