Japan's Hayabusa 2, which is set for a six-year mission to get samples from the surface of an Apollo asteroid known as 1999 JU3, is scheduled for launch on Nov. 30.
This comes just several weeks after the European Space Agency's Philae lander tumbled on comet 67P.
Hayubasa 2 is supposed to blast off from Tanegashima Space Center, a space development facility located in an island 115 km south of Kyushu, on Sunday aboard a liquid-fueled H-IIA rocket, but bad weather is getting in the way of the scheduled launch.
Thick clouds are expected over the weekend, prompting scientists from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to postpone the launch.
"The launch of the H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 26 (H-IIA F26) with the Asteroid Explorer 'Hayabusa2' onboard has been rescheduled as clouds, including a freezing layer that exceeds the restrictions for suitable weather, are forecast to be generated at around the scheduled launch time on November 30 (Sun.), 2014 (Japan Standard Time.)," JAXA stated.
Spacecraft launches can cause lightning and since constantly thick clouds can produce more water vapor and make the electric field stronger, the possibility of the launch vehicles getting struck by lightning is high.
"Launch vehicles can intensify the ambient electric field," Aerospace scientist Richard Walterscheid said. "The criteria involve avoiding flight through (or standing off) from clouds that are known to be associated with enhanced electric fields. These include cumulus clouds of various types, thick layered clouds, and raining clouds associated with weather systems."
Serious consequences may happen once lightning strikes a launch vehicle. Electrical devices on board the spacecraft, for instance, can be negatively affected and damaged. Worse events are also possible. After lightning struck the Atlas-Centaur 67 vehicle, which was carrying a communication satellite during its launch in March 1987, the rocket broke apart.
JAXA said that it will announce the new launch schedule of Hayubasa 2, which will be determined after assessment of the weather conditions, but it will likely happen after Dec. 1.
Hayubasa 2 will carry along with it an explosive device. This will be used to blast a crater in the surface of the asteroid to collect samples. The refrigerator-sized space probe will then carry these materials back for analysis on Earth.
The probe is anticipated to arrive at its target asteroid in July 2018. It is expected to be back on Earth by December 2020.