How scientists determine rocket launch dates

Posted at 7:07 PM, Jun 11, 2014
and last updated 2014-06-11 21:05:04-04

Hampton Roads, Va. - When rockets are launched into space from Wallops Island, all eyes turn to our Eastern Shore.

In fact, more and more people are expected in the area as the Wallops Research Park takes shape to promote economic growth in the region.  The groundbreaking happened Monday, June 9, 2014.

But when a liftoff is delayed, like the most recent re-supply mission to the International Space Station that was scrubbed earlier this week and will not take off until July 1 at the earliest, how do scientists determine a new launch date?

NewsChannel 3 went to the experts at NASA to find out.

"People are like, 'Bummer, you know, I kind of tried to plan my long weekend around the rocket launch, and now it's slipped its schedule,'" said Sarah Daugherty, Range Test Director at NASA Wallops Flight Facility.

Daugherty says pinning down launch dates can be difficult.  NASA not only has to coordinate the launches with the company or agency that has the rocket, but it also has to plan around air space clearances through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and fleet exercises with the military.

"You really start getting down to the nitty-gritty about two weeks out from launch.  Ideally, we give heads up months in advance to the FAA, like this is our projected launch date for the next several months. And they'll come back if they have any concerns," said Daugherty.

NASA also looks at time of day to liftoff a rocket and space activity.

"When we decide on a launch window, we do have what we call blackout times during the launch window when it is not a good time to launch because there is an object orbiting right over head or in the path or the trajectory of the rocket," said Daugherty.

NASA says while the Antares rocket will not send supplies to the space station right away from Wallops Island, those onboard will be okay until everything is just right for a launch.