SpaceX and NASA try to control thousands of variables to allow American astronauts to launch from Kennedy Space Center for the first time in nine years, but they can’t control the weather.
We watched as Wednesday’s launch was scrubbed about 17 minutes before the Falcon 9 rocket was scheduled to blast off.
A team of meteorologists and military officers and enlisted personnel and civilians working at Patrick Air Force Base can’t control the weather either. But it’s the job of the 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron job to let launch managers know if it is safe to sen men (and often women) into space.
“Launch Commit Criteria” is a detailed set of guidelines that outlines the environmental limits a rocket and spacecraft can experience during ascent and landing to ensure a successful end of mission. Variables like wind direction, humidity, temperature, cloud coverage, precipitation come into play during flight.
The 45th has overall launch range requirements for launches from Patrick AFB, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA’s Kennedy Space Station. Private venders -- like SpaceX -- can provide their own rocket-specific weather criteria, like how close rain can be to pad at launch, wind speed and direction, upper-level wind shear limits and others.
Detachment 11 of the 2nd Weather Squadron became the 45th Weather Squadron under the 45th Operations Group when the 45th Space Wing was activated in November 1991. Despite its name, the unit monitored the collection and analysis of all weather data pertinent to space launch operations.
So what’s the outlook for 3:22 p.m. Saturday? As of Friday afternoon, the 45th “improved” the chances of the weather “violating launch constraints” to 50/50.
“The primary weather concerns for Saturday are flight through precipitation, as well as the anvil and cumulus cloud rules associated with the afternoon convection,” the meteorologists wrote.
News4Jax meteorologists break down those rules and other aspects of the forecast into English.
If Saturday’s launch is scrubbed for weather or other reasons, the next launch window is 3 p.m. Sunday. The 45th gives better odds of favorable weather on Sunday afternoon, with only a 40% chance of weather that would violate launch rules.