It turns out it’s the payload – the third of the European Space Agency’s Automated Transfer Vehicle robotic Space Station re-supply ships – not the Ariane 5 rocket that’s behind the delay to the 9 March launch.
According to launch operator Arianespace, “a routine inspection concluded that additional measures were required to maximize ATV Edoardo Amaldi’s launch readiness”.
The two previous ATV launches in February 2011 and March 2008, also from ESA’s spaceport in French Guiana, were successful.
There is no indication so far of the possible extent of the delay, with ESA and Arianespace simply saying that a new launch date will be announced as soon as possible.
The 9 March slot sits in a relatively narrow window, given the amount of traffic coming and going from the ISS. ESA, for example, could not have delayed for many days the 13 February maiden flight of its new Vega light launcher, for fear of interfering with the ATV mission. ESA’s Kourou, French Guiana space centre could cope with nearly simultaneous launches – the rockets fly from adjacent pads – but both missions need the same set of ground stations, including some shipboard receivers that need to be repositioned between the ...