Eastern Range Radar issue delays upcoming Cape launches

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A fire that impacted a radar asset on Florida’s Eastern Range has resulted in the postponement of two launches from Cape Canaveral. United Launch Alliance’s upcoming Atlas V mission has already been pushed back to at least April 10, while SpaceX later confirmed its Falcon 9 mission – that was set to loft the CRS-3 Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday – has also been delayed.

Eastern Range Issue:

The Eastern Range supports missile and rocket launches from both the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) on Florida’s Space Coast.

With its headquarters at the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, its history reaches back as far as the 1940s, playing a key role in space launches out of Florida throughout the space program.

The Range consists of a chain of shore and sea based tracking sites, providing one of the key green lights for a launch to take place during the countdown, before keeping a close eye on the rocket as it heads out east on its ride uphill.

A recent fire at one of the radar assets belonging to the Range – believed to be the US Air Force MOTR 19.39 radar installation – resulted in damage that requires a large amount of repair. Initially it was thought the repairs would only take a few days, before later estimates noted it could take as long as 45 days.

Z3The United Launch Alliance (ULA) were quick to note delays to their upcoming launch of an Atlas V from SLC-41, tasked with lofting the NROL-67 spacecraft into orbit.

Following the initial quick fix estimates for the Radar asset, ULA first noted slips of just 24 hours, before Wednesday’s announcement of a longer delay to a new NET (No Earlier Than) target of April 10.

“The launch of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the National Reconnaissance Office (NROL-67) payload has been delayed to no earlier than Thursday, April 10,” ULA announced in a press release.

“Prior to the first launch attempt March 25, an issue developed with a 45th Space Wing mandatory range asset needed to support the launch. Tomorrow, the Atlas V will be rolled back to the Vertical Integration Facility and will be set to launch as soon as the range asset is able to support. More information will be provided as it becomes available.”

Rollback is expected to be complete by 16:30 Eastern on Thursday.

The new date is subject to change, although L2 source information notes they are looking at an alternative, vehicle specific, solution in association with the Range capabilities, which may allow them to be ready for the second week in April.

While ULA officially noted the Atlas V delay during Wednesday, SpaceX didn’t make any immediate references or statements associated with the Eastern Range issues, with their next launch of the Falcon 9 v1.1 from Cape Canaveral’s SLC-40 scheduled just days after the Atlas V was due to set sail.

As such, the SpaceX launch – which has been delayed several times for various reasons – remained on track for its latest target of March 30, with the Falcon 9 tasked with lofting the CRS-3/SpX-3 Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS). This schedule also allowed for an alternative launch date of April 2 – based on the shortest rendezvous time.

BieOk8OCEAAB8CI-2However, throughout the day L2 sources began noting information was being passed down the chain of command that the launch was to be delayed into April.

The reason for no immediate official comment from SpaceX was likely to be related to what was described as last ditch efforts to try and find a short-term solution to the Range situation, classed as alternative telemetry possibilities.

However, this effort was later portrayed as likely to be associated with creating expedited launch date options next month, as opposed to still being able to launch on Sunday.

The delay was confirmed by SpaceX in a response to NASASpaceFlight.com late on Wednesday.

“(SpaceX is) standing down for this weekend due to an issue with a mandatory range asset that’s required to support launch,” said SpaceX spokesperson Emily Shanklin to NASASpaceFlight.com

No realigned launch date has been announced at this time.

(Images: SpaceX, NASA and ULA)

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