Antares launch delayed to Saturday to avoid bad weather

CBS News

Running two days late because of a minor last-minute technical glitch, Orbital Sciences managers decided Thursday to delay the maiden flight of the company's new Antares rocket one more day to Saturday because of expected bad weather, company officials said.

The 133-foot-tall Antares rocket, built to boost unmanned space station cargo ships into orbit, now is targeted for liftoff from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA's Wallops Island, Va., facility during a three-hour window that opens at 5 p.m. EDT (GMT-4) Saturday. The weather is expected to "improve significantly," according to a company update.

Orbital got within 12 minutes of launch Wednesday only to call off the countdown after engineers spotted a data cable that had pulled loose from the rocket's second stage. Frank Culbertson, an Orbital vice president and Antares mission manager, said the issue was relatively easy to resolve and launch was tentatively rescheduled for Friday.

But forecasters said conditions were expected to deteriorate and with high winds and thick clouds expected, Orbital managers decided Thursday to delay the test flight one more day.

The Antares is the most powerful booster in Orbital's inventory and the largest rocket ever built for launch from the MARS/Wallops complex. NASA is counting on the new rocket to help ensure steady delivery of supplies and components to the International Space Station in the wake of the shuttle's retirement.

For the rocket's initial test flight, a heavily instrumented mockup of the company's Cygnus cargo ship is mounted in a protective nose cone. Assuming the test flight goes well, Orbital plans to launch a real Cygnus atop an Antares in mid June to deliver about a ton of supplies and equipment to the space station.