Software Glitch Delays Commercial Spaceport's First Launch
An Orbital Sciences Minotaur rocket stands poised to launch the TacSat-2 satellite in the first ever orbital space shot from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia.
Credit: Orbital Sciences, Corp.

ATLANTIC, Va. (AP) - The launch of a rocket carrying two satellites for the Air Force and NASA was scrubbed early Monday because of a problem with the flight software, officials said.

The mission, which would have included the first takeoff from the mid-Atlantic region's commercial spaceport, will be postponed until at least Wednesday - and possibly for as long as two to three weeks - while the problem is being resolved, said Neal Peck, program manager for the Air Force's TacSat-2 satellite.

Peck described the problem as an "anomaly with the spacecraft flight software.'' That problem, first discovered Sunday night, would have prevented one of the satellites from getting enough power in space to conduct all its experiments.

"Rather than me standing in front of you in a few hours saying we have a serious problem with a spacecraft on orbit, we've caught it up before we've gone up,'' Peck said from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, where the spaceport launch pad is located.

The 69-foot Minotaur I rocket was to blast off at 7 a.m. EST, carrying the TacSat-2, designed to test the military's ability to transmit images of enemy targets to battlefield commanders in minutes, a process that now can take hours or days.

Peck said the glitch occurred in software that controls the pointing of the satellite toward the sun, which helps it use solar rays for battery charging. The panels are 45 degrees off.

"So we would not be receiving sufficient power to the spacecraft to power all our systems and to conduct all our experiments,'' Peck said.

Also aboard the rocket was the NASA's shoebox-size GeneSat-1 satellite, which carries a harmless strain of E. coli bacteria as part of an experiment to study the long-term effects of space on living organisms. The results could be useful for NASA's mission to Mars.

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, or MARS, is one of only six federally licensed launch centers in the country. The Air Force will pay the spaceport $621,00[0] for the launch, spaceport director Billie Reed said Sunday.

The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, a state agency created in 1995, built the launch pad in 1998 on land leased from NASA on Wallops Island on Virginia's Eastern Shore peninsula. Maryland later joined the commercial venture.

Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles built the rocket with two stages made from decommissioned Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles and two stages from Pegasus rockets.