Rocket's Delayed Launch Waylays New NASA Sky-Mapper

New NASA Sky Mapper Heads to Launch Pad
The WISE spacecraft sits under its protective covering after its arrival at Vandenberg Air Force Base, where it will launch from this winter. (Image credit: NASA)

The delayedlaunch of a U.S. military communicationssatellite that blasted off Saturday atop a Delta 4 rocket has pushed back the upcoming liftoff of NASA?snew sky-mapping spacecraft by two days.

The Delta4 booster launched the new Wideband Gapfiller SATCOM 3 satellite for theU.S. Air Force. The satellite is the third in a constellation of communicationssatellites to support U.S. military operations overseas. But the satellite wasinitially slated to launch last Wednesday. Bad weather thwarted that attempt,and a technical malfunction later pushed to the launch to Saturday.

That delaycaused a ripple effect for NASA?s new sky-mapping Wide-fieldInfrared Survey Explorer (WISE) spacecraft. NASA had hoped to launch theobservatory on Dec. 9, but is now targeting a Dec. 11 liftoff at 9:09 a.m. EST(1409 GMT).

WISE is setto launch on a Delta 2 rocket from California?s Vandenberg Air Force Base - on theother side of the country from Saturday?s satellite launch from the CapeCanaveral Air Force Station. But because the two spacecraft share a common rocketfamily and launch service provider - the Delta boosters provided by UnitedLaunch Alliance (ULA) - NASA and ULA officials wanted to be sure WISE?s boosterwas also safe to fly.

?There issome data-sharing between launches,? NASA spokesperson Allard Beutel from Kennedy Space Center near the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. ?Myunderstanding is that it?s a day-for-day slip.?

The $320million WISEspacecraft is designed to map the entire sky in unprecedented detail.Scientists expect it will uncover hidden objects in the cosmos like darkasteroids, cool stars and odd brown dwarfs, as well as bright galaxies.

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