- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2006

1:17 p.m.

ATLANTIC, Va. — This morning’s scheduled launch of a rocket carrying two satellites was scrubbed because of a software problem that would prevent one of the satellites from getting enough power in space to conduct all its experiments, officials said.

That means the first takeoff from the mid-Atlantic region’s commercial spaceport will be postponed until at least Wednesday — and possibly as long as two to three weeks — while the problem is being investigated, said Neal Peck, program manager for the Air Force’s TacSat-2 satellite.

“In one way, this is the last place I want to be at this hour,” Mr. Peck said during a press conference two hours before the 69-foot Minotaur I rocket was to have been launched at 7 a.m. from Virginia’s shore.

But he said he also was “kind of thrilled that we’re here this morning because this means we found the problem before launch,” he said at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, where the spaceport launch pad is located.

“Rather than me standing in front of you in a few hours saying we have a serious problem with a spacecraft on orbit, we’ve caught it before we’ve gone up,” Mr. Peck said.

Mr. Peck said that Air Force teams doing some testing discovered an “anomaly with the spacecraft flight software” at about 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. yesterday.

The TacSat-2 team decided to delay the launch at about 11 p.m.

The problem involves a set of software that controls the pointing of the satellite, Mr. Peck said. The most important pointing mode, Mr. Peck said, is called “sun track,” in which the satellite uses solar rays for battery charging.

That mode is 45 degrees off, so instead of solar panels facing directly into the sun, they would be tilted at a 45-degree angle, Mr. Peck said.

“So we would not be receiving sufficient power to the spacecraft to power all our systems and to conduct all our experiments,” he said.

Asked what caused the problem, Mr. Peck said, “It’s basically an error in the software.”

“Anybody that has ever taken algebra has gotten a problem wrong because you slipped a minus sign somewhere,” Mr. Peck said. “My guess is it was something along those lines.”

The TacSat-2 satellite will test the military’s ability to transmit images of enemy targets to battlefield commanders in minutes — a process that now can take hours or days.

The Air Force envisions a system that would allow commanders to send questions directly to a satellite overhead and receive answers before the satellite passes back over the horizon.

Also aboard the rocket is the NASA’s shoebox-size GeneSat-1 satellite, which carries a harmless strain of E. coli bacteria as part of an experiment to study the long-term effects of space on living organisms.

The results could be useful for NASA’s mission to Mars.

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, or MARS, is one of only six federally licensed launch centers in the country. The Air Force will pay the spaceport $621,000 for the launch, spaceport director Billie Reed said yesterday.

The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, a state agency created in 1995, built the launch pad in 1998 on land leased from NASA on Wallops Island on Virginia’s Eastern Shore peninsula.

Maryland later joined the commercial venture.

Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles built the rocket with two stages made from decommissioned Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles and two stages from Pegasus rockets.

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