Orbital Sciences Corp.'s launch of its new Antares rocket has been put on hold due to a technical issue that popped up when countdown was about 12 minutes away.
The 13-story rocket was expected to blast off from NASA’s little-known Wallops Flight Facility in eastern Virginia at 2 p.m. Pacific time in its maiden flight to space in a test mission for NASA.
But Orbital said it had to abort the launch when an umbilical line to the second stage prematurely fell off while the rocket was on the launch pad.
"The teams are still gathering data," the company tweeted. "Most probable next attempt will be Friday, April 19 at 1700 EDT. We will provide confirmation soon."
NASA has invested about $288 million in seed money to help the Dulles, Va., company develop its technology and has an additional $1.9 billion on the table with a contract for eight flights to transport cargo to the International Space Station in the coming years.
Now that the space shuttle fleet has been retired, NASA is eager to give private industry the job of carrying cargo and crews, in hopes of cutting costs. Meanwhile, the space agency will focus on deep-space missions to land probes on asteroids and Mars.
One commercial company, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., has successfully resupplied the space station in two missions. The Hawthorne firm, better known as SpaceX, most recently pulled off the feat last month.
The Antares test flight, more than a year late because of design and launchpad delays, is the first of two missions that Orbital is scheduled to conduct in 2013 under its contract with NASA.
The two-stage rocket is set to carry a dummy cargo capsule weighing roughly 8,300 pounds about 160 miles above Earth.
When the launch does occur, NASA will have television coverage at www.nasa.gov/ntv.
If all goes well, Orbital plans to carry out a full flight demonstration midyear of the rocket and the Cygnus capsule that will take cargo to the space station.
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