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Europe's MetOp satellite gets new launch date

Third, fourth, or maybe fifth time lucky

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Europe's first polar orbit satellite has been given a new launch date after a "mechanical incident" at the Baikonur cosmodrome caused delays.

The MetOp satellite, which will improve weather forecasting and provide data for those monitoring changes in the Earth's climate, will now launch on 17 October, 10 days after its previously scheduled lift-off date.

The satellite was originally scheduled to launch in July and three attempts were made before engineers returned the craft to its hanger.

Once in its polar orbit at an altitude of around 800km, the MetOp satellite will provide scientists with plenty of atmospheric data. It will monitor temperature, humidity, ozone levels, and wind velocity.

But what of the "incident" so coyly referred to in the European Space Agency's press material? The BBC reports that on 30 September the whole spacecraft was dropped a few centimetres while mission engineers were getting it ready to be transported to the launchpad.

Apparently, one of the chains supporting the spacecraft was twisted and, as it untwisted, the upper part of the load, including the satellite and the rocket's upper stage, was jolted.

The whole assembly has now been checked and cleared for the new launch date. ®

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