Virginia rocket launch "GO" for tonight
The U.S. Air Force will try again this evening to launch its TacSat-3 satellite from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore. Weather conditions are expected to be favorable, with only a 10 percent chance that bad weather would stop the countdown.
UPDATE 4 p.m.: Weather is now 100 percent GO for launch.
Two attempts to launch the satellite earlier this month were stopped by bad weather. A third attempt ended 2 minutes before liftoff because of a technical problem. The only "issue" controllers were watching was a potential conflict in the use of the launch range. Not clear whether that's still an issue this morning.
This week's clear weather will make this a terrific opportunity for Marylanders to see the launch from wherever they are. The high-pressure system that moved in late yesterday has cleared the skies, providing ideal conditions for long-distance observation of the launch. It could be visible for hundreds of miles, from the Carolinas to southern New England, and as far west as eastern Kentucky.
The launch window at Wallops opens at 7:35 p.m. and lasts until 11:30 p.m. All we will need here in Baltimore is an unobstructed view toward the southeast. If the launch comes early enough in the launch window - even well after sunset - the sun should illuminate the rocket's smoke trail quite nicely. Later on, we may only get a view of the 69-foot Minotaur's fiery plume as it rises toward orbit.
Here's a delightful YouTube video of a Minotaur launch in California in 2006. It gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect. And here's Joe Rao's blog from the Hayden Planetarium on the first attempt on May 5. It includes a picture of a previous Minotaur launch that also gives you an idea of what to look for.
If successful, this launch will be only the third satellite to be sent into orbit from Wallops - both atop Minotaurs. The first was in December 2006, in a launch that was clearly visible from Baltimore. The second was in April 2007, but clouds obscured the view from here. An earlier attempt, in October 1995, ended in a spectacular failure as the Conestoga rocket went awry and had to be destroyed high over the Virginia beaches.
The Minotaur rocket was assembled by Orbital Science Corp. The lower two stages come from a decommissioned Minuteman ballistic missile. The upper two stages include motors from Orbital's Taurus and Pegasus rockets.
The $60 million TacSat-3 satellite is an Air Force technology package designed to demonstrate new systems for providing combat forces with battlefield information. The Minotaur will also carry a small NASA biological research satellite called PharmaSat, and three two-pound "picosatellites" built by private and university researchers.
One of the picosatellites is HawkSat-1, by the Hawk Institute for Space Sciences, in Pocomoke City, Md. It would be the first Earth satellite to be designed, built and launched from the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia.
To track the countdown via NASA Webcast, go to: http://sites.wff.nasa.gov/webcast/
For Twitter updates: http://twitter.com/NASA_Wallops
For phone updates: 757 824-2050
If you're in the Wallops area, tune your car radio to 760 AM.