BERLIN – Showers and fog early yesterday morning forced NASA officials to scrub the latest significant rocket launch from nearby Wallops, a 30-foot Terrier-Malemute sounding rocket with experimental satellites from different universities around the country attached.
For several hours early yesterday, it appeared inclement weather would hold off long enough for NASA’s Terrier-Malemute rocket launch at Wallops, which was expected to be visible throughout the mid-Atlantic including the coastal areas of Worcester County. The countdown was set in motion around 4 a.m. and pre-launch protocols began, but the window closed when showers persisted and the event had to be postponed until March 22 at the earliest.
The Terrier-Malemute rocket, which stands about 30 feet tall, is in a class of sounding rockets frequently launched at Wallops. The rocket was expected to reach a maximum altitude of 314 kilometers, or about 195 miles, with a total flight time of around nine minutes. The rocket was scheduled to carry two experimental satellites called cubesats developed and implemented by scientists from the University of Kentucky and Cal-Poly University, who were on hand to staff several ground positions.
Not much bigger than a child’s toy blocks, the two satellites designed by university students were expected to ride along on the Terrier-Malemute rocket until being deployed at about 77 miles, or around 72 seconds into the flight. They are the first of their kind to be attached to a larger NASA rocket launch and could open a new chapter in fast, inexpensive access to space for smaller payloads.
At around 5 a.m., showers persisted in the area, but the pre-launch protocols continued with a target time of 7 a.m. At about 6 a.m., smaller rockets, launched to test the facility’s tracking systems, were successfully launched and the mission was still a go. However, a protective shelter still covered the main rocket as the countdown continued.
At 7 a.m., the weather showed signs of clearing and the protective shelter was removed. By 7:30 a.m., final tests were completed, the waters around Wallops were scanned for any vessels in the launch area, the rocket was moved into position and the countdown commenced.
However, by 8 a.m., with 44 minutes and counting on the launch clock, the weather took a turn with showers increasing and the cloud ceiling getting lower. Finally, at 8:30 a.m., the mission was scrubbed. The original back-up dates were set to be today and tomorrow, Saturday, March 13, but the forecast was not predicted to improve.