NASA scrubs Orion's First Flight launch due to wind and technical difficulties, initiates 24hr reset
Thursday, December 4, 2014, 6:58 AM - We've been waiting roughly 42 years for the launch of another deep-space crew vehicle from NASA, and it looks like we'll have to wait at least one day longer.
The last crewed deep space mission launched by NASA was in 1972 when the Apollo 17 astronauts lifted off for their visit to the Moon. Working on the premise that it's about time that humanity stretched its 'cosmic legs' again, NASA has been developing Orion. This crewed spacecraft is meant to deliver astronauts into deep space - that is, beyond low-Earth orbit - to targets like the Moon and even beyond. One target that NASA is locking in its sites for the Orion mission is the planet Mars.
On the morning of Thursday, December 4, the launch window opened up for the very first test flight of Orion, with the original liftoff scheduled for 7:05 am EST.
Over the course of about four and a half hours, Orion was to achieve low-Earth orbit, fly around the Earth, and then boost out to reach a maximum distance from the planet of over 5,700 kilometres (nearly 20 times the height of the International Space Station's orbit). Once it reached that distance, it was then to come back to Earth, travelling at around 32,000 km/h when it hit the atmosphere, and use a brand new kind of heat shield to slow itself as it plunged towards the Pacific Ocean. Roughly four minutes before the end of the mission, it was to deploy its parachutes to slow down the rest of the way, making a soft splashdown at just before 11:30 am EST.
However, Mission Control was forced to abort the launch five different times over the next two and a half hours, first due to a boat intruding in the waters around the launch area, then problems with winds, a fuel valve that wouldn't close properly, and finally a battery issue with the camera system on the launch vehicle, which would have caused problems in keeping track of the spacecraft during its flight.
Update (7:12am EST): Although the launch was initially scheduled for 7:05 am EST, just after sunrise in Florida, Mission Control was forced to delay for roughly 12 minutes, in order to clear a boat from the water surrounding the launch zone. If anyone gets too close to the launch, either on land, in the air or on the water, it constitutes a safety issue and the launch must be delayed until the area is once again clear. Mission control has a 2.5-hour long launch window, so there is plenty of time for them to recover.
Update (7:19am EST): There is a further delay, due to
technical problems winds, putting the launch on pause from it's revised 7:17 am EST launch time. Mission Control is currently working to resolve the problem waiting out the weather so that they can, once again, reset the launch timer and count down to liftoff!
Update (7:50am EST): New launch time is 7:55am EST!
Update (7:52am EST): Another delay due to winds being stronger than expected, above the safe limit for a launch (21 knots or 39 kph). There's still 1 hour and 45 minutes left in the launch window. No technical problems with the spacecraft or launch vehicle. It all comes down to the weather right now!
Update (8:16am EST): New launch time, 8:26am EST, after a technical issue with a bearing on the central booster being out of temperature limits was resolved, and winds seem to have died down enough to attempt a launch!
Update (8:45am EST): Now, a fuel valve for the liquid hydrogen tanks is not working properly, so the team is now troubleshooting the problem in the hopes that they can still go before the launch window closes for the day.
Update (9:00am EST): No word yet on the launch, but this tweet was quite amusing:
Update (9:20am EST): Technical problems are still delaying the launch. Although the window is open until 9:44am EST, Mission Control will have to OK a launch by 9:39 am EST in order to actually have Orion lift off in time.
Update (9:30am EST): NASA is saying 'Go for Launch' at 9:44am EST, so one last attempt to for Orion to liftoff, at the very last minute of today's launch window!
Final Update (9:36am EST): Mission Control was forced to scrub the launch for today. The issue with the liquid hydrogen fuel valve persists, and apparently battery power on the camera system on the rockets is dropping, so the decision was made to reset.
Since cycling the fuel valves did not correct the problem, and with issues cropping up with the video system, rather than dealing with this so close to the end of the launch window, Mission Control decided to reset the launch, for another attempt on Friday morning.
The new launch time, as of now, will be Friday, December 5, at 7:05am EST.
With all the attention and excitement,
When the test flight finally lifts off, it will be an uncrewed launch, so no astronauts will be on board. However, there will be a few 'passengers' going along for the ride.
According to NASA, several of the cargo lockers on board the capsule contain commemorative items:
One of the lockers carries a radiation experiment designed by the students who won the Exploration Design Challenge, an initiative for students to research and design ways to protect astronauts on future missions from radiation. Another radiation experiment designed by NASA called BIRD, for battery-operated independent radiation detector, will evaluate the environment inside the locker as Orion passes through the Van Allen belts experiencing higher doses of radiation than spacecraft that orbit closer to Earth, such as the International Space Station.
To learn more about NASA's Orion mission and spacecraft, check out their website (click here), and the NASA infographic below takes us through the mission, stage by stage, as Orion completes its first historic launch.