Of­fi­cials: Only 40% chance of good weather for launch

Orlando Sentinel - - Local & State - By Cha­beli Car­razana

Never un­der­es­ti­mate Florida weather.

As NASA and SpaceX learned Wed­nes­day, when touch-and-go weather con­di­tions took them through al­most an en­tire launch count­down be­fore lin­ger­ing storms put a stop to Amer­ica’s re­turn to hu­man space­flight, Florida weather in the sum­mer is as un­pre­dictable as Florida traf­fic can be any time of year.

“The weather got us,” said NASA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Jim Bri­den­s­tine af­ter the launch at­tempt.

“We had just sim­ply too much elec­tric­ity in the at­mos­phere,” Bri­den­s­tine said Wed­nes­day. “There wasn’t re­ally a light­ing storm or any­thing like that, but there was a con­cern if we did launch it could ac­tu­ally trig­ger light­ning.”

The teams are sched­uled to try again on Saturday, launch­ing NASA as­tro­nauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hur­ley in­side SpaceX’s Crew Dragon cap­sule atop a Fal­con 9 rocket, at 3:22 p.m. And weather will still be an is­sue.

The U.S. Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron puts the chance of fa­vor­able con­di­tions at 40% for Saturday and Sun­day, the two up­com­ing back-up dates. A third back-up date has not yet been an­nounced.

In the most re­cent fore­cast, the Weather Squadron said it’s pri­mar­ily con­cerned with a front that will move closer to the space­port on Saturday, likely caus­ing rain in the af­ter­noon. That, as well as cloud rule, could spoil SpaceX and NASA’s next at­tempt.

Any trop­i­cal de­vel­op­ment over the net few days is ex­pected to stay over the open At­lantic, which is an­other con­cern for SpaceX and NASA. For a launch to go off, there has to be good weather not just at the Cape but along more than 50 points across the At­lantic to the coast of Ire­land where the as­tro­nauts may splash­down in the case of an abort mid-flight.

For a Sun­day at­tempt, fore­cast­ers are also wor­ried about thicker clouds and rain.

“Although it seems a ma­jor change in pat­tern and a dry­ing trend will be upon us in June, it’s not clear if the tim­ing will be soon enough for Sun­day’s at­tempt,” fore­cast­ers said.

Still, the fore­cast is sev­eral days out and can change. For Wed­nes­day, NASA and SpaceX were ini­tially look­ing at a 40% prob­a­bil­ity that im­proved to 60% and ul­ti­mately stayed put at 50% on the day of the launch, giv­ing crews a 50⁄50 chance of take­off.

They chose to stand down about 15 min­utes be­fore the sched­uled launch time of 4:33 p.m., say­ing that if they had an­other 25 min­utes or so, the weather would have cleared in time to pro­ceed.

But be­cause the space­craft is go­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion, the NASA and SpaceX team have to launch at pre­cisely the sched­uled time.

The same will be true on the week­end when they try again.

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