WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Look up for launch of rocket from Va. site Monday night

Posted October 15, 2016
Updated October 16, 2016

Nearly two years ago, a resupply mission to the International Space Station ended just 14 seconds after launch in a fiery crash onto Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia. Investigators quickly focused on a turbo pump failure in the Soviet-era AJ-26 engines powering the Orbital ATK Antares rocket.

Repairs to the pad were completed a year ago after a disagreement between Orbital, NASA and the Commonwealth of Virginia over who would fund the $15.2 million cost was settled with Orbital agreeing to a larger share. Another $1 million in damage to NASA facilities was covered by a FAA required insurance policy funded by Orbital.

Orbital paved the way to a return to flight with a successful hot fire test in May. The upgraded Antares rocket was now equipped with more modern Russian-built RD-181 engines.

That return to flight was scheduled for no earlier than Sunday, Oct. 16, but, during a pre-launch checkout, a faulty cable was discovered on the launch pad forcing a 24-hour delay to replace the cable and recheck systems.

The new liftoff time has been reset to 7:40 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 17, just over an hour after sunset, into astronomical twilight and a sufficiently dark sky to see the rocket's exhaust. The weather forecast at the launch site remains 95% favorable. Even clearer skies are forecasted for the viewing area Monday evening.

The launch is expected to be visible throughout the East Coast, including central North Carolina. The CRS OA-5 mission will deliver crew supplies, spare equipment and scientific experiments to the International Space station under the company’s commercial resupply service.

Launch visible in central NC

How to see the launch

Night launches of this 133-foot tall rocket capable of lifting payloads over 11,000 pounds are widely visible depending on atmospheric conditions. Look to the northeast for the rocket’s exhaust moving from the left to the right. It will disappear mid-flight as the first stage burns out. The third stage will ignite too far offshore to be visible to all but those on the coast.

The Wallops Weather Office predicts an 95% chance of favorable weather conditions during Monday's five minute launch window. The main weather concern is a low chance of thick clouds as a weak cold front approaches the northern Mid-Atlantic increasing mid and upper level cloudiness.

The favorable forecast is welcomed by NASA and Orbital after rescheduling several times. On Oct. 13, Hurricane Nicole passed over a critical NASA tracking station in Bermuda which provides tracking, telemetry and flight termination support for Antares launches. Minor damage at the tracking station was quickly repaired. The previous week, the launch date was moved as Hurricane Matthew threatened the launch site.

​Tony Rice is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on twitter @rtphokie.


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  • Stan Creech Oct 17, 2016
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    Currently scheduled for 7:40 pm launch this afternoon 10/17

  • Stan Creech Oct 17, 2016
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    Wallops Flight Facility has a cool app for Android (not sure about Apple).
    Gives up to date info on current and upcoming launches.

  • Tom Bundick Oct 16, 2016
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    Orbital ATK is a corporate entity with publicly traded stock. As such, their interest is in providing returns for their investors (i.e., the Russian engines were probably cheaper) and not to help the US economy. They probably do create a number of jobs, though, which may contribute to the economic recovery.

  • RB Redmond Oct 15, 2016
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    Why are they using Russian-built engines? And how's it help US economy to do so?