By Andy Pasztor
An aircraft flying near the launch area forced the cancellation of Thursday's planned liftoff of a $1.2-billion Air Force missile-tracking satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida.
Following a propulsion issue that temporarily halted countdown for the 19-story Atlas V rocket, the launch was scrubbed for the day around 8:30 p.m. local time due to the errant aircraft. Launch of the roughly five-ton spacecraft was rescheduled for Friday evening.
The launch would have been the first of 11 blastoffs slated for the year by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp.
Lockheed Martin also built the satellite, called by the acronym SBIRS, part of a wide-ranging constellation of satellites intended to detect and track ballistic missiles using infrared sensors from various orbits. Two of the same type of satellites already are in orbit roughly 22,000 miles high, and the fourth such satellite is anticipated to be launched later in 2017.
SBIRS over the years suffered some of the biggest technical problems, schedule delays and budget overruns affecting any Pentagon satellite program. But since the first batch of SBIRS satellites was launched and started sending information to the ground nearly a decade ago, military officials and senior Lockheed Martin officials have said the quality of the data exceeded their expectations.
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