After wandering boat delay, Orion capsule scheduled for launch today (updated)

5 Dec 2014

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with NASA's Orion spacecraft mounted atop. Image via NASA

After attempts by a wandering ship to enter restricted waters around the Orion capsule launch, US space agency NASA’s next-gen spacecraft is to be launched today at 12.05pm (UTC).

While the drifting ship close to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station was one of the reasons for the rocket’s delayed launch yesterday, other far more serious factors contributed to the delay including strong gusts of wind in the Florida centre as well as faulty fuel gauges.

Certainly, NASA are understandably being extremely cautious when it comes to the Orion craft considering it is destined to be the future for manned space flight further than we have ever travelled before, most likely Mars.

The US space agency are also being particularly cautious after their previous rocket launch attempt, the un-manned Antares, which sadly exploded soon after take-off from their Virginia base.

While the Orion craft being launched today will also be un-manned, its flight systems will be tested to measure whether the craft could survive ascent and re-entry, two of the most dangerous times during a space mission.

At the time of writing, the Orion craft is currently being fuelled with liquid oxygen in its RS-68A engines prior to its launch at 12.05pm UTC.

Unlike the recent European Space Agency Rosetta mission which took a grand total of 10 years, the Orion test will be an altogether shorter experience at 4.5 hours before it crash lands in the Pacific Ocean, most likely off the coast of Baja, California.

The only pressing concern is that current weather conditions at the launch site are ‘observed red’ because of cumulus clouds and precipitation over the launch site.

However, the good news for NASA scientists is that both of those violations are expected to clear, according to Kathy Winters, weather officer for the Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron.

Update 12.11pm UTC: NASA can now breathe a sigh of relief after the Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying Orion successfully took off from the launch pad and will begin its 4.5 hour test. To follow its progress, NASA is running its live blog on their website charting the Orion craft’s progress.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic