Jan 08, 2014 02:05 PM EST
Orbital Science Halts Cygnus' ISS Supply Mission Due to Solar Flare's Threat of Radiation
Orbital Sciences had to scrap its plans to launch its private cargo trip to the International Space Station Wednesday due to space weather radiation caused by a solar flare.
According to Space.com, 2014 saw its first major solar flare Tuesday when a sunspot seven times the size of the Earth erupted following a series of smaller sun storms. The flare was enough to cause concern over the expected radiation that could hamper the spacecraft and its crew.
"We are concerned about mission failure," Orbital's chief technical officer Antonio Elias told reporters in a teleconference Wednesday, Space.com reported.
Cygnus spacecraft was designed to bear space weather like Tuesday's flare, but the Antares rocket has a higher level of vulnerability. Orbital is evaluating the space weather event to see if it could interfere with critical systems like gyroscopes and avionics, Elias told the reporters.
"Sometimes, you just don't get off the ground when you want to," Orbital's executive vice president Frank Culbertson said in the teleconference. "This isn't a failure in the system, it is a delay. But all we're really delaying is the success that's going to come when we execute this mission."
Elias also said in the teleconference, quoted by CBS News, that the monitoring of space weather has been a recent development.
"This is a little bit like global warming, that is, concern about these issues is relatively recent," he told reporters.
"A few years ago, neither ourselves nor others would really bother to look at space weather as a launch constraint," Elias said. "So this is an enhanced sensitivity that is kind of part of the overall trend in the industry to improve reliability."
Neither the ISS crew nor the Orbital crew was ever in any danger, but, like Elias said, the decision to stop the launch was a precautionary measure.
According to BBC News, the ISS will have its life "extended" past 2020, for four years. Construction began in 1998 as a joint-effort between the U.S., Canada, Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency. On Wednesday, NASA gained backing from the White House to extend the ISS to 2024.
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