Workers at AstroTech prepare the TDRS-K satellite for its scheduled launch Jan. 30. / Malcolm Denemark, Florida Today
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - A powerful Atlas V rocket rolled out to its launch pad Tuesday amid final preparations for the launch of a NASA communications satellite.
The 192-foot-tall United Launch Alliance rocket is scheduled to blast off at 8:48 p.m. EST Wednesday from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The launch window extends through 9:28 p.m., about the time forecasters think what is expected to be a clear day will turn into a cloudy night.
Launch managers will be keeping close tabs. Thick, electrically charged clouds are expected in advance of an approaching cold front. Rockets launching through cumulus clouds could trigger destructive bolts of lightning in flight.
Launch weather officer Joel Tumbiolo of the Air Force 45th Space Wing said he sees a 40% chance that conditions could force a launch delay.
"We're going to be tracking the cold front. Hopefully things go as scheduled and we'll be able to beat the front through. But again, that's the thing we're going to be tracking throughout the day Wednesday into Wednesday night," Tumbiolo said.
Mounted atop the Atlas V is a NASA Tracking and Data Relay Satellite. The Boeing-built spacecraft will relay voice communications and data between the International Space Station and ground stations on Earth.
Many other NASA spacecraft, including the Hubble Space Telescope, also use these satellites; U.S. Department of Defense satellites also employ the technology.
Ten NASA Tracking and Data Relay Satellites have been launched since 1983. Seven of those still are operating in orbit. One was lost in the 1986 Challenger accident, which occurred 27 years ago this week.
The one on the launch pad will be the first launched since 2002.
"It's definitely an adrenaline rush," said Jennifer Harp, a systems test engineer with United Launch Alliance. "It definitely is a nervous excitement, and everybody else in the room is feeling the same thing." Her father is a control systems engineer who works for United Launch Alliance in Denver.
On Tuesday, the 23-year-old supervised technicians as they routed 26,000 gallons of Rocket Propellant-1 fuel into the Atlas V rocket.
If the launch is delayed Wednesday, the weather is expected to worsen. Gusty ground winds would be a concern. He sees a 60% chance conditions would prohibit a launch Thursday.
MAP: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, site of Atlas V rocket launch
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