An Atlas V carrying a secret National Reconnaissance Office payload known only by its designation as NROL-36 was scrubbed yesterday as it was being prepared for launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The reason given by ULA was “a range instrumentation issue”.
This problem was expected to be fixed in time for a second attempt to launch today, but it turned out not to be the case and the launch originally rescheduled for August 4th. It looks as if the issue was more complex than was at first though and the next launch attempt has now been put back until at earliest August 14th. The official statement from ULA states: “The launch of an Atlas V carrying the National Reconnaissance Office NROL-36 payload has been further delayed to no earlier than Tuesday, Aug. 14 to provide additional time for resolution of a range instrumentation issue that developed during the initial launch attempt Aug. 2.“.
There were no issues with either the Atlas V booster or the NROL spacecraft.
Although the payload is a closely guarded secret the fact that the mission is being launched from the Vandenberg Air Force Base suggests that the final orbit of the spacecraft will be polar. Typically launches from Cape Canaveral head east and result in equatorial orbits, whereas launches from Vandenberg head south into polar orbits.
The Atlas V waits on the launch pad as the Mobile service tower has been rolled back exposing the rocket. The xenon spotlights punch through the mist to illuminate the space rocket.
Peeking through the mist the 4 meter payload fairing with the NROL-36 logo and umbilical connectors stands proud waiting for launch.