The closure of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as Hurricane Matthew swept towards Florida didn’t stop Volga-Dnepr Airlines from completing its role in ensuring an advanced weather observatory was delivered for launch into space next month.
The airline was due to commence a two and-a-half hour flight from Huntsville, Alabama, to Cape Canaveral carrying a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket booster. However, the flight had to be postponed with just 15 minutes of the four-hour loading to go after the Florida airfield was closed with immediate effect as the storm approached.
Volga-Dnepr, which was operating the flight on behalf of its longstanding customer, ULA, was initially advised that Cape Canaveral could be closed for seven days. In consultation with ULA, the airline decided to hold the 31-tonne payload inside the cargo hold of its An-124-100 freighter until the storm passed to ensure the cargo could still be delivered in time for the necessary preparations to be completed ahead of the planned launch date in November.
Matthew Thear, customer service manager of Volga-Dnepr said: “We have a strong working relationship with United Launch Alliance and have been moving rocket hardware for them for nearly 20 years. Our crew, handling agents and the ULA team follow well-documented procedures and know exactly what to do to ensure a smooth and timely delivery.
“On this occasion, the extreme weather conditions interrupted our planned schedule but we were still able to complete the flight as soon as Cape Canaveral Air Force Station reopened after five days in support of the November launch schedule.”
The rocket is going to launch the GOES-R spacecraft, a next-generation weather satellite that will be used to observe conditions over the U.S. from geostationary orbit 35,888 km above the Earth. The satellite will help meteorologists more accurately forecast weather patterns.