CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - A 192-foot Atlas V rocket will lift off with a NASA communications satellite at 9:05 p.m. Thursday.
"We're all excited to launch this critical national asset," said Tim Dunn, the NASA launch director, after a Tuesday morning meeting confirmed all systems were ready for the countdown.
The forecast looks good for the year's first night launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Local 6 News partner Florida Today reported.
There's an 80 percent chance of favorable weather during the 40-minute window at Launch Complex 41, with thick clouds a possibility.
On top of the rocket is NASA's next Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, known as TDRS-L.
It's the second of three updating a constellation that keeps the ground in near-continuous communication with International Space Station astronauts and with weather and scientific satellites flying in low Earth orbit, including the Hubble Space Telescope.
The voice and data communications the satellites support "touch each of our lives," said Dunn.
The first in the series, TDRS-K, launched from the Cape on an Atlas V nearly a year ago. Combined, the TDRS-K and TDRS-L satellites and modifications to related ground systems cost $715 million.
Built by The Boeing Co., the new satellite weighs 7,615 pounds fully fueled and stands nearly 27 feet tall inside the rocket's payload fairing, from its base to the tip of two giant antennas folded up like taco shells.
The launch would be the 43rd by an Atlas V, and the first of 10 missions United Launch Alliance plans from Cape Canaveral this year on its Atlas V and Delta IV rockets.
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