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Software glitch delays launch
Inside the mobile service tower at Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, workers prepare to install NASA’s Aquarius spacecraft into the United Launch Alliance’s Delta 2 payload fairing. Aquarius will be integrated to the Delta 2 rocket in preparation for Friday’s liftoff. //NASA

After racking up thousands of travel miles before even reaching Vandenberg Air Force Base, a NASA science instrument’s trip to space aboard a Delta 2 rocket must wait one day longer.

The United Launch Alliance-built Delta 2 rocket is aiming to get off the ground at 7:20 a.m. Friday from Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg. The Aquarius/SAC-D mission has just five minutes a day to launch so the satellite can be placed in the proper orbit.

On Wednesday, officials called off plans for today’s launch attempt.

Engineers checking data spotted a problem with the pre-loaded computer flight profile that helps the steer the rocket through upper-level winds, according to NASA spokesman George Diller.

Along with sorting out the software problem, crews needed to review other flight profile data to ensure no additional issues exist.

“They want to understand why the flight profile didn’t get loaded on that vehicle,” Diller said, adding crews needed extra time to complete those chores, leading to the 24-hour day.

Aquarius/SAC-D is an international collaboration between NASA and Argentina’s space agency, Comision Nacional de Actividades Espaciales or CONAE.

“Our team has worked hard with NASA and CONAE for the last two years to get to this point, and we’re ready to launch this unique mission,” said Vernon Thorp, ULA’s program manager for NASA missions.

Weather shouldn’t be a problem for the launch, but the Central Coast’s so-called June gloom may not accommodate those hoping to view the rocket’s departure.

Capt. Shawn Hannah, 30th Weather Flight, said that the normal June pattern of marine layer and fog are expected Friday, which would restrict visibility.

While Vandenberg has restricted access, base officials said the public can view the launch from a public viewing site off Corral Road.

To access the site, take Highway 1 to the main gate. Instead of driving into the closed section of the base, proceed on Lompoc-Casmalia Road (a right turn for people coming from Santa Maria; continue straight for people coming from Lompoc). At the barriers, turn right onto Corral Road, and follow it to the viewing site equipped with bleachers and audio system.

Other spots around the Lompoc Valley also offer good views, including the peak of Harris Grade Road.

Aquarius will provide NASA’s first space-based global observations of salinity or the concentration of dissolved salt on the ocean surface.

Officials said NASA’s Aquarius instrument was created in California and Maryland before being shipped to Argentina to be installed on the SAC-D spacecraft frame. Aquarius is among eight instruments, including from Canada, France and Italy, riding on the satellite.

After undergoing testing in Brazil, the Aquarius/SAC-D spacecraft was flown to Vandenberg, where crews prepped the satellite for this week’s launch.

Eric Ianson, Aquarius program executive from NASA Headquarters, said that those making up the mission team “could not be more excited” about Thursday’s launch.

“This important Earth Science mission is NASA’s first attempt to measure ocean surface salinity from space,” Ianson said. “Obtaining global measurements of salinity is the key to our better understanding of ocean circulation, climate and Earth’s water cycle.”

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