High Winds Prompt 9th Delay of Titan 3 Booster Rocket Debut
The maiden flight of a Titan 3 rocket carrying two foreign satellites was postponed Saturday for 24 hours because of dangerous winds aloft, the ninth delay in a row for the commercial booster.
The towering $100-million Titan 3 was scheduled to take off on the program’s first flight from launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, 23 days behind schedule because of a computer glitch and repeated high winds.
The goal of the flight is the deployment of JCSat 2, a $150-million Japanese communications satellite, and Skynet 4A, a military relay station owned by the British Ministry of Defense.
But the countdown Saturday was delayed 50 minutes because of higher-than-allowable winds aloft, blamed in part for seven other postponements, including one Friday. Then, after data from a final weather balloon was received, the flight was postponed for the day.
“We have a scrub at T-minus five minutes and holding . . . " said Robert Gordon, a spokesman for rocket maker Martin Marietta. “We’ll have a 24-hour recycle.”
The rocket’s 10th launch attempt was scheduled for 4:07 p.m. PST today, weather permitting.
The flight marks a milestone for the post-Challenger U.S. space program and efforts to build a domestic private-sector launch industry to compete with Arianespace, an 11-nation European consortium that dominates the commercial launch market.
The Titan 3, an improved version of Martin Marietta’s military Titan 34D, is the most powerful of three major U.S. commercial rockets and one that competes head-to-head with the French-built Ariane 4 booster.
The first Titan 3 originally was scheduled to blast off Dec. 7, but launch was postponed 24 hours because of a computer programming problem. The next seven launch attempts in a row were postponed because of bad weather, primarily higher-than-allowable winds between 25,000 feet and 35,000 feet above the launch pad.
The winds had been slow enough earlier Saturday, but the speed increased throughout the day.
Data from a weather balloon showed winds at 102 m.p.h. near 35,000 feet, about 30 m.p.h. too fast for a safe launch, officials said.