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High Winds Prevent Launch of NASA's Five-Satellite Mission

High Winds Prevent Launch of NASA's Five-Satellite Mission
At Launch Pad 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the mobile service tower moves away from the Delta II rocket with the THEMIS spacecraft atop for a Feb. 16, 2007 launch attempt. (Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett.)

Five NASA probes will have to wait at least one more day to begin hunting for the source of dynamic auroras after high winds above their launch site prevented a planned Friday liftoff.

The launch scrub occurred just minutes before NASA's five THEMIS spacecraft were expected to ride a United Launch Alliance Delta 2 booster spaceward at 6:05 p.m. EST (2305 GMT) from Pad 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Launch is now reset for Saturday during an 18-minute window that opens at 6:01 p.m. EST (2301 GMT).

Unacceptable winds were the only concern for today's planned space shot, which at times had a 90 percent chance of favorable flight conditions at launch time.

Launch controllers sent up a series of weather balloons during today's countdown to monitor changing wind conditions.

"The final weather balloon showed red for upper level winds," NASA launch commentator Jessica Rye said.

The delay marked the second this week for THEMIS, a $200 million mission to find the origin of substorms in the Earth's magnetic field that are responsible for the most colorful light displays in the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights.

Thunderstorms and severe weather prevented the fueling of THEMIS' Delta 2 booster for a planned Feb. 15 launch attempt.

Short for the bulky title Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions During Substorms, THEMIS consists of five identical probes designed to circle the Earth in ever-higher orbits ranging between one-sixth and one-half the distance between the Earth and Moon.  The probes are designed to spend about two years monitoring the Earth's magnetosphere for the tell-tale release of high-energy particles that signal a substorm.

Researchers hope the THEMIS mission will aid understanding and prediction of space weather. The mission a cooperative effort between NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.

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Tariq Malik
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. 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. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter.