Strong Winds Postpone New US Rocket's Launch Debut

Orbital Sciences Corp. Antares rockets will launch from Pad 0A on Wallops Island, Va.
The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket is seen on the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Pad-0A at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on April 16, 2013 on Wallops Island, Va.The rocket is slated to launch on April 20. (Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The launch debut of a new privately built rocket will have to wait at least one more day after strong winds thwarted an attempted liftoff on Saturday (April 20).

The unmanned Antares rocket was poised to launch into orbit Saturday afternoon from a new seaside pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility along Virginia's Eastern Shore when the foul weather intervened. The rocket's next chance to launch occurs Sunday (April 21) at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT).

Orbital Sciences had hoped to launch Antares at 5 p.m. EDT on Saturday, but unacceptably strong winds in the upper atmosphere — which could pose a risk to the rocket in mid-flight — prompted them to delay liftoff by an hour at first, then call off the attempt altogether. [LaunchPad Photos: 1st Antares Rocket Ready to Fly]

It is the second delay in three days for Antares' debut launch. A minor equipment glitch led Orbital officials to call off a launch try on Wednesday (April 17) when a data cable at the pad separated from the rocket earlier than planned.

Built by the Dulles, Va.-based spaceflight firm Orbital Sciences Corp., the Antares rocket is a 13-story booster designed to launch the company's unmanned Cygnus spacecraft on cargo delivery missions to the International Space Station. Orbital has a $1.9 billion contract to provide at least eight cargo delivery flights to the station using Cygnus and Antares. 

For this first flight, the Antares rocket will not be carrying an active Cygnus spacecraft into orbit. Instead, the rocket is topped with a cylindrical "mass simulator" that mimics the shape and weight of an actual Cygnus vehicle, officials said. The mockup is also equipped with 70 sensors to measure the effects of launch on an Antares vehicle.

Orbital has also added three tiny NASA satellites — coffee-cup-size Phonesats — and a small commercial cubesat called Dove-1 to the mass simulator for this test flight. The miniature satellites will be deployed in orbit after launch, Orbital officials said.

NASA's Phonesats are experiments designed to test how well commercial smartphones can be used as the main computers on cheap satellites.

Orbital Sciences is one of two American spaceflight companies with NASA contracts for  commercial resupply missions to the International Space Station. The other firm is Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., which has a $1.6 billion contract to fly at least 12 cargo delivery missions to the space station using its Falcon 9 rockets and robotic Dragon space capsules.

SpaceX launched its first test flight to the station in May 2012 and has flown two official cargo deliveries since then. NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011 and is relying on private spacecraft to keep the space station stocked with supplies. The space agency also plans to begin flying American astronauts to the station on commercial spacecraft by 2017.

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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.