LAS CRUCES, N.M. — A long-delayed NASA space science satellite finally reached orbit Oct. 10 on a Pegasus rocket, a launch vehicle with an uncertain future.
The Pegasus XL rocket was released from its L-1011 carrier aircraft at 9:59 p.m. Eastern off the Florida coast and ignited its motors to ascend to orbit. Its payload, the Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, was released from the upper stage in low Earth orbit about 11 minutes after ignition.
NASA scheduled the launch for 9:30 p.m. Eastern but a communications glitch shortly before the planned release led to a half-hour delay. NASA scrubbed a launch attempt Oct. 9 hours before the plane’s takeoff from Cape Canaveral because of poor weather in the area.
Those delays, though, pale in comparison to issues with the Pegasus rocket that delayed its launch by about two years. That included a case where the rocket’s rudder position indicator became active, but only while the rocket was attached to the aircraft at cruise altitudes.
“We saw some things on our previous launch attempt that none of us were comfortable with, and we decided to stand down and go address those,” said Phil Joyce, vice president of space launch programs ...