NASA put a 24-hour delay on the launch of an Atlas 5 carrying the Radiation Belt Storm Probes

NASA put a 24-hour delay on the launch of an Atlas 5 carrying the Radiation Belt Storm Probes

An apparent malfunction in a rocket tracking system will delay the launch of two probes meant to study the Earth’s harsh radiation belts.

Controllers found a tracking beacon malfunction early Friday morning, during the countdown of an Atlas 5 rocket carrying the two Radiation Belt Storm Probes. NASA decided to postpone the launch until 4:07 a.m. Saturday.

The tracking beacon keeps tabs on the rockets path after takeoff.

“That’s a mandatory safety item so that we could track the vehicle in flight,” launch director Tim Dunn said. “It certainly was a situation we wish we didn’t have, but we wanted to err on the side of conservatism.”

If all goes well Saturday, the $686 million probes will begin a two-year mission to study the radiation belts around the Earth at a level not previously studied. The probes will fly to the two Van Allen Belts that surround the planet. The first belt goes from the top of the atmosphere to about 4,000 miles out. The second belt extends from 8,000-26,000 miles above the surface of the Earth.