The first launch of a Pegasus rocket following the completion of the sale of Orbital ATK to Northrop Grumman has been delayed indefinitely because of “off-nominal data” detected in the rocket.
The payload is a NASA climate research satellite dubbed ICON. The rocket and launch crew were on board the L1011 carrier plane on they way to the Pacific launch area for next week’s launch when they detected the issue and decided to return to California.
This is not the first problem with this particular Pegasus launch.
ICON’s launch has been delayed a year by a pair of concerns with its Pegasus launcher. Engineers wanted more time to inspect the Pegasus rocket motors after they were mishandled during shipment to Vandenberg, officials said. That pushed the launch back from June to December 2017, the next availability in the military-run range at Kwajalein.
Then managers decided to ground the mission to assess the reliability of bolt-cutters used to jettison the Pegasus rocket’s payload fairing and separate the satellite in orbit. Workers installed smaller bolts in the fairing and satellite separation mechanisms, a measure officials said will ensure the cutters do their jobs.
For Northrop Grumman this isn’t the best way to start its new rocket business, but better a delay than a failed launch.
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