European space consortium rocket launch postponed

A European space consortium rocket launch was postponed Tuesday due to a problem with the ground equipment, an officials said.

The Ariane-5 was scheduled to launch during a 70-minute window around 2300 GMT Tuesday from the Kourou complex in French Guiana, carrying satellites for the Spanish defense ministry and for Paris-based Eutelsat Communications SA.

The problem involved the gas used to keep the ground equipment cool before the launch, said Mario de Lepine, a spokesman for Arianespace, the commercial arm of the 13-country European Space Agency.

The 3.7-ton (4.1-US ton) Spainsat satellite, built by U.S.-based Space Systems/Loral, is intended to improve communications among troops and for the government in general, Spain's defense ministry said.

The Hot Bird 7A, a 4.1-ton (4.52-US ton) satellite built by France-based Alcatel Alenia Space, is the 21st satellite launched for the telecom operator Eutelsat Communications.

It will transmit more than 850 television channels and 550 radio stations to 110 million homes in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East for the next 15 years, Eutelsat said.

It was to be the first launch of the year of the Ariane-5 rocket. The launch was to be postponed by at least one day, De Lepine said.

The launch was to be Arianespace's 170th flight since the European launcher began operating in 1979, reports AP.

According to Discovery Channel, the shuttles are required to undergo a major inspection and maintenance about every three years, or 10 flights. Atlantis has about five flights left before its next maintenance period. Discovery has flown just one flight since its last major maintenance and NASA and its contractors have just completed the work on Endeavour.

"From a processing standpoint, it would make sense that if Atlantis was ready to go into (its maintenance period) in 2008 and then be unavailable for a year or two, to not bring it back into service just for one or two flights," said Kennedy Space Center spokeswoman Jessica Rye.

NASA plans to fly another 16 missions to the space station before the fleet is retired in 2010. It also would like to make one more shuttle-servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope.

The shuttles have flown just once since the 2003 Columbia accident, which was triggered by a piece of falling foam insulation from the fuel tank. The debris hit Columbia's wing during launch, damaging its wing. The shuttle was destroyed and its seven crewmembers killed 16 days later as the ship soared through the atmosphere for landing.

NASA tried to resume shuttle flights and space station assembly missions last year, but despite a comprehensive redesign, large pieces of foam fell off the tank during that launch as well.

Managers now hope to fly again in May.


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