US spy satellite launch on Atlas V rocket delayed by Tropical Storm Eta

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — United Launch Alliance (ULA) is delaying the launch of an Atlas V mission 24 hours due to inclement weather from Hurricane Eta. 

The launch, which was originally slated to take off on Nov. 3, has been delayed several times due to ground systems issues and poor weather conditions at the launch site. The team is now targeting Friday (Nov. 13) at 5:13 p.m. EST (2213 GMT), ULA officials tweeted on Wednesday afternoon. 

"Due to impending weather and escalation of Hurricane Eta, ULA is now targeting Friday, Nov. 13, at 5:13 p.m. EST (2213 UTC) for the launch of the NROL-101 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office."

Video: US spy satellite to launch atop Atlas V rocket - NROL-101 profile
Related: US spy satellite launch aborted in final seconds again 

When it does launch, the two-stage rocket will blast off from Space Launch Complex 41 here at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying with it a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, which manages the U.S. government's fleet of spy satellites. 

Hardware issues prevented the Atlas from getting off the ground on Nov. 3, in what would have been a rare election night launch. Teams rolled the vehicle back to its integration facility for the repairs and were back out on the pad the next day. 

An issue with the vehicle's fueling system prevented the rocket from being loaded with super chilled liquid oxygen, one of its propellants. Teams were forced to halt the countdown and troubleshoot the issue. 

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with the NROL-101 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office rolls from the Vertical Integration Facility to the launch pad at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on Nov. 3, 2020. (Image credit: United Launch Alliance)

The most recent delay came as Tropical Storm Eta regained hurricane status on Tuesday (Nov. 10) and its path threatened to cut across the state of Florida. On Wednesday morning (Nov. 11), Hurricane Eta was downgraded to a tropical storm, however with its maximum sustained winds of 70 mph, teams decided it was safer to wait until Friday for lift off. 

Weather conditions will improve greatly on Friday, with forecasters at the 45th Space Wing predicting an 80% chance of favorable launch conditions. With the only concerns being the potential for cumulus cloud formation. 

If all goes as planned, the flight would mark ULA's fifth mission of the year. It could also mark a launch double header this weekend as NASA and SpaceX are planning to launch the agency's next astronaut mission on Saturday, Nov. 14 at 7:49 p.m. EST (0049 GMT on Nov. 15). 

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Amy Thompson
Contributing Writer

Amy Thompson is a Florida-based space and science journalist, who joined as a contributing writer in 2015. She's passionate about all things space and is a huge science and science-fiction geek. Star Wars is her favorite fandom, with that sassy little droid, R2D2 being her favorite. She studied science at the University of Florida, earning a degree in microbiology. Her work has also been published in Newsweek, VICE, Smithsonian, and many more. Now she chases rockets, writing about launches, commercial space, space station science, and everything in between.