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Branson’s space trip delayed; potential it could be scrubbed

The release of VSS Unity from VMS Eve and ignition of rocket motor over Spaceport America, N.M. during a past test flight.
Virgin Galactic
The release of VSS Unity from VMS Eve and ignition of rocket motor over Spaceport America, N.M. during a past test flight.

(Editor's note: Click here to watch ABC-7's LIVE launch coverage from 6-7AM and 8-10AM)

UPDATE: Billionaire Sir Richard Branson's launch to the edge of space on Sunday morning in the first fully crewed flight from his private space tourism firm Virgin Galactic was delayed, VG officials announced, citing "overnight weather conditions."

Instead of the launch taking place from southern New Mexico's Spaceport America at 7 a.m. , the launch time was now targeted for 8:30 a.m. MT.

Military experts not directly connected with the spaceflight previously told ABC-7 they estimated a 60% chance the launch could be scrubbed altogether given the weather situation near the spaceport.

ORIGINAL REPORT: SPACEPORT AMERICA, New Mexico -- Well-connected military sources said late Saturday night it seemed probable that Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic space tourism flight from southern New Mexico set for Sunday morning could be scrubbed due to unfavorable weather conditions.

The military experts, familiar with space launches, told ABC-7 they placed the odds at 60% likelihood that the mission would be a "no go," with just a 40% chance that it would happen based on forecast models.

The military contacts indicated the weather situation upon the return of mothership VMS Eve and the rocket plane VSS Unity posed a greater potential for trouble than did the launch itself.

They noted the up to two-hour variable between the take-off time and the return landing was looking difficult to manage. Unlike a traditional NASA space voyage, which is typically focused solely on launch, the variables involved in this endeavor are significant because of the same-day return just a short time later.

The takeoff for space is scheduled for 7 a.m. MT, with the return to earth anticipated about 90-minutes later, according to the schedule shared with the media by Virgin Galactic officials.

The experts said the atmosphere was gaining humidity rapidly late Saturday, which posed a significant challenge to the impending launch. ABC-7 StormTrack Doppler Radar on Saturday night showed storms brewing near Truth or Consequences, the area where the Spaceport America launch site is located.

Earlier Saturday, Virgin Galactic President Mike Moses told ABC News that rain could stop the flight - and he said crosswinds and headwinds were an issue too. Moses also acknowledged what the military sources later pointed out - it’s not just takeoff weather, they have to make sure the weather is good enough to land back at the spaceport.

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Jim Parker

Jim Parker is the Director of Digital Content for ABC-7.

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