Power Outage Delays Launch of NASA's Pluto Probe

Launch of NASA's Pluto Probe Delayed for 24 Hours
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, tucked snugly atop its Atlas 5 rocket, was unable to launch on Jan. 17, 2006 due to high winds at its Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch site. (Image credit: NASA TV.)

This story was updated at 6:17 p.m. EST.

The plannedlaunch of NASA's first probe bound for Pluto has been delayed another day dueto an early morning power outage at the spacecraft's Maryland-based mission controlcenter Wednesday.

Sittingatop a Lockheed Martin-built Atlas 5 rocket, the NewHorizons spacecraft is now set to Jan. 19 at 1:08 p.m. EST (1808 GMT) based on an afternoon decision by mission managers, NASA officials said. The spacecraft was previouslyslated to lift off today at 1:16 p.m. EST (1816 GMT) after high winds foileda Tuesday launch attempt.

"We've beenworking on this for 17 years so I don't think a couple of days are going tohurt us," New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the SouthwestResearch Institute, told SPACE.com.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft carries seven primary instrumentsdesigned to study Pluto, its moonsystem and other KuiperBelt objects with unprecedented detail.

Severe storms knocked out power to the New Horizons mission control center at the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, NASA officials said in a statement. While the center was on backup power, New Horizons mission managers want to ensure the site has sufficient backups before pressing forward with critical events like launch and early flight operations, they added.

"It's likea double whammy," APL spokesperson Helen Worth said of the launch delay in a telephone interview. "Allwe can do is try again tomorrow. People here are disappointed and this was totallyout of left field."

APLofficials said the outage occured at about 6:00 a.m. EST (1100 GMT) and anticipate power to be restored at their facilities by 5:00p.m. EST (2200 GMT).

The outagealso affected APL mission operations for NASA's MESSENGERspacecraft currently headed toward the planet Mercury, Worth added.

NASA's NewHorizons spacecraft has a wide launch window that extends until Feb. 14.Mission managers would like to launch the spacecraft by Feb. 2, which wouldallow New Horizons to take advantage of a gravity boost during Jupiter flybyslated for early next year. If the probe launches by Jan. 28, it could reachPluto by 2015.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.