Engineers discovered that crucial insulation on the batteries was accidentally knocked off and blown around by the humidity-purging system.
"Obviously, it has the potential to delay our target launch date," Beutel said.
Shuttle managers want to see how long the cleanup will take before discussing any new launch date, Beutel said. As of Wednesday night, it did not appear as though the batteries or anything else had been contaminated by the insulation, he said.
The insulation came loose and was blown around the plastic bag that encloses the batteries by a gas-purging system that keeps the telescope parts clean. The incident occurred in the building where payloads are serviced.
Atlantis is to carry seven astronauts on NASA's last repair mission for the popular Hubble telescope.
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