WALLOPS ISLAND — Virginia will have to wait another day to return to space with the postponement of the first scheduled launch of an Antares rocket from the regional spaceport here since the destruction of a commercial rocket shortly after liftoff two years ago.
NASA announced the postponement of the launch at 12:59 p.m. Sunday, about seven hours before the scheduled liftoff at 8:03 p.m. The launch of the Antares 230 rocket has been reset for 7:40 p.m. today at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, owned by the state on land leased from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility here.
Orbital ATK, the Loudoun County-based company that is under contract with NASA to resupply the International Space Station, postponed the launch because of malfunctioning ground equipment, which spokesman Barron Beneski described as a “hold-down mechanism” that is designed to release a tether line on the rocket at liftoff.
“It wasn’t getting the electrical signal,” Beneski said.
Orbital found the problem during its pre-launch checklist. The company said it has spare equipment on hand to repair the system in time for the next launch window timed to the orbit of the space station over Earth.
Beneski said the malfunctioning equipment has nothing to do with the Antares rocket itself or the Cygnus spacecraft it is carrying into space to rendezvous with the space station.
“The rocket’s fine; there are no issues with the rocket,” he said. “The spacecraft is fine; there are no issues with the spacecraft.”
The launch, if it proceeds as rescheduled, will be the fifth by Orbital from the spaceport’s Pad OA, which suffered $15 million in damage when an Antares rocket failed and exploded shortly after takeoff on Oct. 28, 2014. The state, Orbital and NASA shared the cost of the repairs, which took 11 months to complete.
Orbital subsequently launched two other rockets from Cape Canaveral, Fla., as part of its initial contract with NASA to resupply the space station. The company is scheduled to fly at least five more missions under the contract and at least six under the commercial resupply services deal it signed with NASA at the start of this year.
The delay will reduce the number of people at the launch party by at least one. Gov. Terry McAuliffe will not be able to attend the rescheduled liftoff, according to Secretary of Transportation Aubrey L. Layne Jr., who does plan to be there.
More than 130 congressional staff members had arrived in Chincoteague to see the scheduled launch on Sunday night from the spaceport on a barrier island along the Atlantic.
The weather forecast is “95 percent acceptable” for today’s scheduled launch, NASA said.