WASHINGTON- NASA has delayed the launch of its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) aboarda United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket from late this year until the end ofFebruary at the earliest to make way for a military payload slated to fly atopa similar vehicle.
"Becauseof high demand for Atlas 5 launches for the next 12 months, NASA has agreed toa request to exchange launch dates with another mission, allowing that missionto launch earlier," NASA spokeswoman Nancy Jones told Space News."The newLRO launch window now opens on the 27th of February 2009, and continuesthrough the end of March."
Jonesdid not say who had asked to swap launch dates with LRO. Another NASA officialsaid the request was made by the U.S. Defense Department, which wants to haveits payload on orbit before the end of this year.
TheFlorida newspaper Florida Today reported that the military payload wouldbe a space planeprototype built for the Pentagon. ?
TheLRO had been onschedule for a late 2008 liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The missiondevelopment team at NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md., willuse the additional time for more risk-reduction testing and to address anyproblems the spacecraft might encounter during environmental testing currentlyunder way, Jones said.
NASAofficials have been warning for months that a combination of zero scheduleslack and a busy end of the year at Cape Canaveral could push the LRO's launchinto 2009.
FloridaToday contributed to this report.
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