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Orbital Sciences Rocket Launch Scrubbed After Cable Issue

The test launch of Orbital Sciences Corp.’s new rocket was called off after a cable disconnected.

The liftoff of the unmanned Antares rocket had been scheduled for 5 p.m. today Washington time from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. It was canceled about 12 minutes in advance.

Today’s launch “has been been scrubbed due to a premature separation of one of the umbilicals up there on the second stage of the Antares rocket,” a NASA TV announcer said. Wind may have played a role, said Barry Beneski, a spokesman for Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital.

The launch wasn’t immediately rescheduled. The earliest possible time would be 5 p.m. Friday, according to Beneski.

The Antares test launch will be a key milestone in the company’s plan to begin regular cargo deliveries to the International Space Station as early as September.

The test launch involves delivering a simulated version of the Cygnus unmanned supply ship to orbit. The replica won’t connect with the station.

Musk’s SpaceX

Orbital is trying to match the success of billionaire Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp., which last May became the first company to dock a commercial craft at the station.

Orbital has a $1.9 billion contract with NASA for eight cargo resupply flights to the space station.

James Oberg, a former engineer for the space shuttle program, described the umbilicals as data cables that connect computers on the rocket with a ground computer.

“The cables came off early,” he said in a phone interview. “You don’t have insight into all the equipment. You don’t have all your command.”

The issue today is a “shoulder shrug,” Oberg said. “This is not a big deal at all. It was a remarkably smooth first launch attempt with a very benign hiccup.”

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