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Rocket problem pushes NASA's Orion test flight to Friday

Irene Klotz, Spaceflight Correspondent
Dec 4, 2014, 23:57 UTC

Sen—Kennedy Space Center, Florida—United Launch Alliance will try again on Friday to boost NASA's first Orion spaceship into orbit for a long-awaited, $375 million test flight. 

Launch of the Delta 4 Heavy, the biggest rocket in the U.S. fleet, had been targeted for 7:05 a.m. EST (1205 GMT) Thursday, but after waiting out weather delays at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the launch was scrubbed because of a technical problem with the rocket. 

Two of the three so-called "fill-and-drain" liquid oxygen valves failed to close as expected about three minutes before liftoff. United Launch Alliance, which builds and flies the Delta boosters, tried to cycle all the valves but ran out of time to resolve the problem. 

The company had until 9:44 a.m. EST (1444 GMT) for Thursday's launch attempt. NASA wants to fly Orion during daylight hours so it can be more easily retrieved following splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. 

ULA will try again at 7:05 a.m. EST Friday.

NASA is flying Orion without a crew for its planned 4.5-hour, two-orbit trial run. The second swing around Earth will position the capsule about 3,600 miles (5,800 km) away, setting up a 20,000 mph (32,000 km/h) plunge back into the atmosphere for a critical test of its ablating heat shield. 

Splashdown in the Pacific Ocean is expected about 4.5 hours after launch. The rocket ride and related services is costing NASA about $375 million. It already has spent $9 billion developing the Orion capsule.