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NASA has delayed the launch of an Earth-observing satellite until Saturday at the earliest. The Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite, or SMAP, had been scheduled for launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California before dawn Thursday, but upper-level winds exceeded the limits for the United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket.

At first, liftoff was rescheduled for Friday. Then, United Launch Alliance said minor repairs had to be made to the booster insulation, due to damage "associated with the cryogenic conditions experienced during tanking operations." That added another day to the postponement. Launch is now set for 6:20 a.m. PT (9:20 a.m. ET) Saturday.

The $916 million SMAP mission, managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is designed to track the amount of moisture locked in soil over the course of three years. The readings are expected to lead to more accurate weather prediction models, particularly relating to floods and droughts.

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— Alan Boyle