Although originally scheduled to launch on May 19, NASA’s highly-anticipated GRACE-FO mission, which stands for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On, will be grounded for three more days, Space.com reports.
The reason for this unexpected delay is connected to the five Iridium NEXT satellites that will take off on the same SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as the twin GRACE-FO satellites.
According to Iridium chief executive Matt Desch, Elon Musk’s company needs the extra time to address a “minor processing issue” that came up while SpaceX was preparing one of the rocket’s components.
Although Desch didn’t elaborate on the nature of the problem, Spaceflight Now quotes the Iridium official as saying it was “not a big deal.”
The announcement was made during a conference call on Monday, when Desch initially conveyed that the launch would be postponed for just two days. The next day, Iridium noted that the delay would be extended to three days “due to range availability” at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
In a Twitter update on the status of the mission, the company revealed that a new launch date is targeted for the seven satellites, which are expected to lift off into orbit on May 22 at 12:47 p.m. PDT (19:47 UTC). In the eventuality that another problem should arise, Iridium has set a backup launch date for May 23.
Update to the Launch Update: Due to range availability at VAFB, #Iridium6/#GRACEFO is now targeting 1 day later; NET 5/22 with backup of 5/23. Instantaneous launch on 5/22 = 12:47:58 pm PDT (19:47:58 UTC) #IridiumNEXT #HereWeGo pic.twitter.com/xhQoczIkjE
— Iridium Corporate (@IridiumComm) May 15, 2018
As the Inquisitr previously reported, the five Iridium NEXT satellites will be accompanying NASA’s two GRACE-FO spacecraft, hitching a ride into space on the same SpaceX vehicle. The 70-meter tall Falcon 9 rocket will firstly deploy the twin U.S.-German orbiting geophysics probes and then rise to a higher orbit to deliver the Iridium satellites.
The GRACE-FO mission, conducted by NASA in collaboration with German Research Centre for Geosciences, is meant to continue the legacy of the immensely successful GRACE mission launched in 2002 to monitor our planet’s water cycle.
Just like its predecessor, the GRACE-FO mission will send into orbit a pair of twin satellites tasked with keeping tabs on “the movement of water masses across the planet and mass changes within Earth itself,” NASA stated in a news release detailing when and where it will broadcast the live coverage of the new Earth observation mission.
Additionally, the GRACE-FO satellites will be monitoring our planet’s atmosphere, oceans, land, and ice sheets, to keep track of the monthly changes in mass distribution.
Space.com reports that SpaceX has been contracted by Iridium for a total of eight launches that will ultimately lift off into orbit 75 of its satellites. So far, Musk’s private space company has already launched 50 Iridium communication satellites atop its Falcon 9 rockets.