NASA and SpaceX are expected to launch four astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) on Halloween Day – October 31, 2021. This mission, named Crew-3, is the third operational NASA Commercial Crew flight on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and the second such mission launching this year, following Crew-2 in April 2021.
The four astronauts who will fly on the crew capsule called Endurance include – three rookie astronauts Raja Chari (USA), Kayla Barron (USA), Matthias Maurer (Germany), and veteran astronaut Thomas Marshburn (USA).
While these launches have become routine, not everything always goes perfectly smoothly. Weather can get in the way and suspend the launch, even at the last minute. But how does NASA make that call? It all depends on the weather down to the minute of the launch.
Weather Parameters Needed for the Launch
For every rocket launch from Cape Canaveral, the weather has to be within specific criteria in order for the launch to go off safely. According to NASA, the specific launch criteria for the Falcon 9 are:
- Sustained wind at the 162 feet level of the launch pad in excess of 35 mph
- Launch through a cloud layer greater than 4,500 feet thick that extends into freezing temperatures
- Launch within 19 kilometers of cumulus clouds with tops that extend into freezing temperatures
- Within 19 kilometers of the edge of a thunderstorm that is producing lightning within 30 minutes after the last lightning is observed
- Within 19 kilometers of an attached thunderstorm anvil cloud
- Within 9.3 kilometers of disturbed weather clouds that extend into freezing temperatures and contain moderate or greater precipitation
- Within 5.6 kilometers of a thunderstorm debris cloud
- Through cumulus clouds formed as the result of or directly attached to a smoke plume
In the days leading up to the planned launch, teams from NASA and SpaceX will be looking carefully at the forecast to ensure the weather will not exceed these limits for a safe and successful launch. We came across the “Launch Mission Execution Forecast” document, reference below, that was issued by the 45th Weather Squadron of the US Space Force that displays the probability of violating weather conditions during launch along with list of concerns, relevant weather information, and some details on the expected forecast.
A Weather Dashboard For the Future
Despite the fact that the final go/no-go decision will always be made based on the conditions at that point of time, there is always extensive, behind-the-scenes work. This begins long before lift-off is scheduled, and is revised on a minute-by-minute basis until the mission is completed.
What if you could create a customizable dashboard that could take into account all the weather variables to help intuitively understand the risks? A console that provides actionable insights and not just provides raw data?
A dashboard created through the Tomorrow.io platform, based on the launch criteria mentioned above, can provide actionable insights to the launch teams. This (sample) dashboard could potentially be displayed in the launch operations center allowing the teams to visualize go/no-go decisions through contextual weather intelligence, instead of raw weather information.
If you are interested in exploring this dashboard to help plan for your next launch, we are here to help you set it up.