NASA optimistic on rocket launch

Only small chance of clouds delaying liftoff from Shore facility this morning

December 11, 2006|By Frank Roylance | Frank Roylance,Sun reporter

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. -- Forecasters at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility said there was only a 10 percent chance that approaching clouds would delay the planned launch this morning of a Minotaur 1 rocket, one of the largest ever hurled into space from this seaside pad.

Liftoff for the 69-foot, four-stage, solid-fuel vehicle was set for 7 a.m., shortly before sunrise. Hotels in nearby Chincoteague reported that they were booked solid with people hoping to watch a spectacular dawn launch. If skies are clear enough, the rocket's rise toward orbit could be visible for hundreds of miles. But the visibility could be hampered if delays push liftoff past sunrise. Today's launch window extends until 10 a.m.

A successful launch would make this the first commercial launch from Wallops and the first to place a satellite into orbit from here in 21 years. (A 1995 attempt ended in failure.) It will also be the first launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), a joint venture by the states of Maryland and Virginia designed to attract more aerospace business to the Eastern Shore.

"Good, I feel good, but I'm tired," MARS Director Billy Reed said yesterday. "It's exciting. I know this thing is going to happen, but I'm tired."

The Minotaur rocket carries an Air Force TacSat-1 satellite, designed to test a variety of military communications technologies and the Pentagon's ability to design, build and launch satellites on short notice. Also on board is GeneSat 1, a package of biological experiments from the NASA Ames Research Center in California.

frank.roylance@baltsun.com

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