CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – After adverse weather conditions scrub SpaceX and NASA’s historic launch plans on Wednesday, the space fanatic’s eyes will return to Cape Canaveral, Fla. Saturday at 2 p.m. 3:22 P.M. EDT.
Wednesday’s launch would have been the first time a private company sent astronauts into orbit. It would also have been the first time astronauts have launched from American Earth since the last space shuttle mission in 2011.
But Mother Nature had other plans, and astronauts Robert Behnken and Doug Hurley have to wait a little longer before beginning their 19-hour journey to the International Space Station.
“We simply had too much electricity in the atmosphere,”
“It wasn’t really a lightning storm or anything like that, but there was a concern that if we started it could actually trigger lightning strikes,” he added.
The decision to scrub Wednesday’s launch was made with 16 minutes and 54 seconds left before lifting.
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The 45th Weather Squadron, located at Patrick Air Force Base, plays a big role in making decisions like these. An entire room full of military and civilian personnel monitors and tracks global weather to ensure conditions are safe enough to start.
“We look at all kinds of information. We’re not just watching, is it sunny? Is it cloudy? Is it rain? “” Major Jeremy Rhomsco told Fox News. “Our great concern is the potential for a triggered lightning strike.”
Rhomsco says that lightnings do not have to be visible to their team to be concerned, and sometimes the most harmless appearance of the clouds is a major danger.
“Even cumulus clouds can build up electric fields inside them,” Rhomsco said. “You launch a rocket through it, with all kinds of exhaust gas coming out of the rocket, and the speed of the rocket, you can actually get a discharge – a lightning strike from the cloud to the rocket.”
Major Emily Graves, who works with Rhomsco, told Fox News that when it comes to clouds and lightning, there are ten different “weather rules” that must be met in order to launch. While each has its own unique criteria, Wednesday’s attempt to launch has been broken by three.
She added that it is very possible that rules will be broken again this weekend.
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“Some of the more common ones [rule violations] that we’re looking at this weekend is our “cumulus cloud rule,” Graves explained. “It’s a little big this time of year. We are entering our unstable season where we see many thunderstorms.”
Graves says 49 percent of scrubs can be launched to weather, and 24 percent of all countdowns are also affected by it.
Rhomsco points out that although the weather systems around the launch site are of great importance, the weather must also be appropriate beyond the Sunshine State.
“All the way along the east coast,” Rhomsco said, explaining that the Falcon 9 Rocket and Crew Dragon Capsule will travel along this path at launch. “Anywhere along the ascending corridor up through the North Atlantic where the canister reaches orbital insertion.”
If something goes wrong and the canister must return to Earth prematurely, rescue and recovery areas must also be clear – which puts much of the world at risk.
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With so many variables, both Rhomsco and Graves allow the process to be hectic and even intense in the moments leading up to a launch – partly because decisions can be made with less than a minute to go.
“Sometimes we can go up to 30 seconds until launch time,” Graves said. “And then, when we evaluate our launch commitment criteria with regard to lightning strikes, we can make that call up to 5 seconds before whether or not we should go.”
As of Friday evening, there is a 50 percent risk of a weather violation for Saturday’s planned launch.
Just like Wednesday’s attempt, the general feeling in the 45th Weather Squadron is that Saturday will come down to the wire.
“It’s a late afternoon launch. That’s when the storms normally pick up,” Rhomsco said. “So it’s probably going to be right up until the last minute again.”