Bad weather forces 24-hour postponement of Europe's comet-chaser
KOUROU, French Guiana (AFP) Feb 26, 2004
The launch Thursday of Rosetta, a European spacecraft designed to chase and land on a comet, was postponed by 24 hours because of bad weather, officials said.

High altitude winds prompted mission controllers to scrub the launch 20 minutes and 40 seconds before the Ariane 5 rocket was due to lift off from the European Space Agency (ESA) base here, they said.

"We will make a second attempt tomorrow provided the weather is good," said Jean-Yves Le Gall, director-general of Arianespace, the ESA-affiliated company that is in charge of the launch.

The problem lay with winds at altitudes of between 10 and 15 kilometers (six and nine miles), he told reporters.

The winds did not pose a problem for the rocket itself but if for any reason the launcher exploded or was ordered to be destroyed at this height, the debris could have scattered outside the launch area's safety zone, Le Gall said.

"We are all dressed up and nowhere to go," said David Southwood, ESA's director of science, putting a brave face on the setback.

"But if you come to the tropics, it rains and you get winds."

He added: "The spacecraft is in good shape... we'll try again tomorrow."

The launch is ESA's second stab to get Rosetta into space.

A launch a year ago was cancelled because of reliability fears about the Ariane 5, and that target, Comet Wirtanen, was substituted by Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Rosetta can be launched on any day during the next three weeks.

But the navigational task of meeting up with the comet is so complex that it has to be launched at a given second on that day.

"We do not have a launch window, we have a launch instant," Le Gall said.