Glitch Delays New Private Rocket's Launch Debut

Antares Rocket on Launch Pad
Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket stands on the launch pad about one hour before scheduled launch at 4:00 pm EDT on April 17, 2013, at Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, VA. (Image credit: NASA TV)

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. — A new private rocket poised to soar on its maiden test flight will have to wait at least two more days to launch into space after an unexpected glitch thwarted a Wednesday liftoff attempt.

With just minutes remaining before a planned 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) launch Wednesday (April 17) from a newly refurbished pad here at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, a connecting cable popped free from the Antares rocket's second stage, forcing controllers to abort the attempt.

Officials with Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp., which built Antares, had stressed that glitches could occur with this first launch. It is a test flight, after all, they said. [Antares Rocket's Maiden Lauch Scrubbed (Video)]

"It's disappointing that we couldn't launch today, but things like this aren't unexpected with a new launch pad and a new rocket," said Orbital spokesman Barron Beneski.

The next try may come as early as Friday (April 19), depending on how quickly engineers troubleshoot the glitch, Orbital officials added. They have said the current launch window closes on Sunday (April 21), though it's possible that could change.

The Antares rocket is a 13-story-tall booster designed to launch the company's new Cygnus spacecraft on unmanned cargo delivery missions to the International Space Station. Orbital has a $1.9 billion deal with NASA to fly eight cargo flights to the space station under the agency's Commercial Resupply Services program, but first needs to demonstrate that the two-stage Antares rocket is fit for those missions.

With the retirement of NASA's space shuttle fleet in 2011, the space agency is depending on new commercial spacecraft like Orbital's Cygnus to keep the space station stocked with supplies. NASA eventually plans to use private spaceships to ferry American astronauts to and from the space station as well.

Orbital Sciences is one of two companies with contracts to launch unmanned cargo delivery flights to the space station. The other is Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., which has a $1.6 billion deal to provide 12 cargo delivery missions using its Falcon 9 rockets and Dragon space capsules.

Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket first test flight was scrubbed on April 17, 2013, about 12 minutes before scheduled launch. An umbilical on the second stage prematurely disconnected. (Image credit: NASA TV)

SpaceX launched its first test flight to the space station in May 2012. Since then, it has flown two official cargo delivery missions, most recently in March.

NASA will provide a live webcast of the next potential Antares rocket launch, whenever it occurs. You can watch the Antares launch webcast live here at, courtesy of NASA.

Orbital is launching Antares from the newly refurbished Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, a commercial spaceport that leases land from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility.

Because the spaceport is based on Virginia's Eastern Shore, the rocket launch could be spotted by observers along a wide swath of the U.S. East Coast. Launch viewing maps released by Orbital Sciences suggest the rocket could be visible as a bright moving light in the early evening sky from as far north as Portland, Maine and as far south as Charleston, S.C.

Editor's note: If you snap a great photo of Orbital's Antares rocket launch that you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, send photos, comments and your name and location to managing editor Tariq Malik at

This story was updated at 6:00 p.m. EDT to state that the next possible launch date for Antares' maiden flight is Friday (April 19). 

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of 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's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, 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 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.