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.
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 SPACE.com, 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 email@example.com.
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).