Page last updated at 15:28 GMT, Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Nasa launch postponed by weather


The Nasa control room announces Ares 1-X rocket launch is delayed

The launch of a prototype rocket designed to replace the aging shuttle has been delayed by bad weather.

The slender, 100m-tall Ares I-X vehicle is due to test technology crucial for the development of a manned craft.

A combination of high wind speeds and clouds contributed to Nasa's decision to scrub the launch at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

The experimental craft has two further four-hour launch windows between 0800 and 1200 EDT on 28 and 29 October.

The craft is the first new launch vehicle that Nasa has designed and built in more than three decades.

Electric effect

Prior to the scheduled take-off, a fabric cover designed to protect a probe on the nose of the craft whilst it was on the launch pad became tangled. It was finally released to a round of applause by the mission team.

A ship that had sailed into the seas surrounding the launch site caused further delays.

Finally, bad weather sealed the fate of the vehicle's first planned launch attempt. Winds at ground level were blowing above 20 knots, higher than allowed for launch, and clouds obscured the pad.

The flight team were particularly concerned about the cloud coverage, partly because they needed clear skies to watch the flight but also because of a problem known as "tribo-electrification".

This phenomenon occurs when the rocket encounters water or ice droplets in the clouds. As these collide with the rocket it causes a static charge to build up on the rocket's skin, creating interference with radio signals.

This is a problem for the 1-X team, which needs clear signals to gather data from the 700 sensors wired throughout the vehicle designed to collect flight data.

In addition, the team needed to be able to send a signal to a detonator and explosives onboard the craft, which would be used to destroy it in case of an emergency.

The slim-line rocket is a prototype of the Ares I craft, part of the Constellation programme intended to return the US to the Moon by 2020.

However, a recent report has cast doubt on the future of the programme.

The Augustine panel, which had been asked to review the US human spaceflight programme, published its report on 22 October.

Although the panel supported the Ares I-X test flight, it questioned the need to develop the Ares I.

In particular, the panel queried the cost and design of the craft as well as its development time.

Ares 1-X graphic flight timeline (Source: Nasa)

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