SpaceX, NASA moving ahead with historic launch, weather permitting

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (WFLA) – NASA and SpaceX are keeping a close eye on weather conditions in Florida as they target a Saturday afternoon launch of the historic crewed Demo-2 mission.

The launch was supposed to happen on Wednesday but was ultimately scrubbed due to unfavorable weather conditions. NASA is now targeting a 3:22 p.m. ET launch of the SpaceX Demo-2 mission from Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex 39A.

If the weather cooperates and all goes according to plan Saturday, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft will lift off and carry NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the International Space Station.

In a launch mission execution forecast issued Friday morning, the Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron predicted a 50/50 chance that weather conditions will cooperate on Saturday afternoon.

While the radar will look clear Saturday morning, it will be a typical Florida afternoon with afternoon thunderstorms expected to pop up. Whether or not the launch will happen depends on where those storms develop.

The primary concerns listed by the Space Force are the same concerns they had Wednesday – flight through precipitation, anvil cloud rule and cumulus cloud rule.

Launch criteria for the Falcon 9 Crew Dragon lists the following conditions:

  • Do not launch if the sustained wind at the 162-foot level of the launch pad exceeds 30 mph
  • Do not launch through upper-level conditions containing wind shear that could lead to control problems for the launch vehicle
  • Do not launch for 30 minutes after lightning is observed within 10 nautical miles of the launch pad or the flight path
  • Do not launch within 10 nautical miles of an attached thunderstorm anvil cloud
  • Do not launch within 10 nautical miles of a detached thunderstorm anvil cloud
  • Do not launch within 3 nautical miles of a thunderstorm debris cloud
  • Do not launch within 5 nautical miles of disturbed weather clouds that extend into freezing temperatures and contain moderate or greater precipitation
  • Do not launch for 15 minutes if field mill instrument readings within five nautical miles of the launch pad exceed +/- 1,500 volts per meter, or +/- 1,000 volts per meter
  • Do not launch through a cloud layer greater than 4,500 feet thick that extends into freezing temperatures
  • Do not launch within 10 nautical miles of cumulus clouds with tops that extend into freezing temperatures
  • Do not launch within 10 nautical miles of the edge of a thunderstorm that is producing lightning within 30 minutes after the last lightning is observed
  • Do not launch through cumulus clouds formed as the result of or directly attached to a smoke plume

In addition to monitoring conditions at the launch site, SpaceX and NASA also have to consider conditions downrange – stretching thousands of miles into the Atlantic Ocean in case the crew has to escape at any point during the spacecraft’s ascent.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Friday morning he’s hopeful the launch will take place Saturday but noted that keeping the crew safe comes first.

“Our highest priority is and always has been Bob and Doug,” he said. “And of course, a couple of days ago, we had too much electricity in the atmosphere.”

Meteorologist Amanda Holly explained on Wednesday how the electrical fields come into play during a launch.

“We’re not just looking at rain. We’re looking at clouds, we’re looking at the amount of precipitation, we’re looking at the electrical fields in the atmosphere,” she said. “The rocket moving so fast in the atmosphere could actually spark a lightning strike on its own because of the amount of electricity we have nearby with the storms.”

If the weather is unfavorable again on Saturday, NASA will scrub the launch and postpone until they can make another attempt on Sunday afternoon.

“We are going to launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil, and we will do it with the absolute priority being the safety of our astronauts,” Bridenstine said.

We will provide live coverage throughout the day Saturday as NASA and SpaceX attempt the historic crewed launch again. Our coverage starts at 12 p.m. ET.

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