The relationship between space exploration and weather has many dimensions. A significant part of the satellites we have put into orbit have the function of observing and predicting the weather, but weather forecasting is also key to getting rockets off the ground safely (or that they do not, as has been the recent case of the Miura 1.
A few hours ago PLD Space announced that it was postponing the launch of its Miura 1 due to weather conditions. The Spanish company wanted to make sure that everything would go according to plan, and for this they needed better weather conditions.
This might seem strange since on many occasions we have seen rocket launches in apparently adverse conditions, but the truth is that the weather is one of the main reasons for postponement of rocket takeoffs. Recent examples can be found in the JUICE probe of the European Space Agency (ESA), and in one of the attempts to take off the Artemis 1 mission by NASA.
Of course, there are different considerations that those responsible for launches have to take into account, from the characteristics of the rocket to countless atmospheric variables such as wind, rain or storms.
Wind is one of the main problems rockets face. The wind (as it does with any vehicle, from a car to a 747) pushes the rocket in one direction or another. To stay on track, the ship must make adjustments, which requires maneuverability and fuel.
Not all rockets have room for it, either because they have engines that do not allow maneuvers and corrections, or because they cannot afford to load with enough fuel. The altitude at which the wind blows is also relevant since the inertia of the rocket will depend on the speed it has reached and its mass (variable since rockets are huge fuel tanks attached to various engines).
Las electric storms They are less frequent, but of great importance. A lightning bolt has the ability to damage the instruments on board the rocket, so it is important to avoid it at all costs, although it is not always possible.
The shuttles often have towers equipped with lightning rods that divert possible electrical discharges towards themselves, preventing them from hitting the vehicle. We saw a recent example of this in the case of the Space Launch System (SLS) that was hoping to take the Artemis 1 mission into orbit of the Moon.
Both high and low temperatures can affect the structure of the rocket (by excessively expanding or allowing ice to accumulate for example). Similarly, ambient humidity can also cause problems under certain circumstances.
The failed first takeoff attempt for Starship in its two-stage configuration on April 17 was due to freezing of a valve used to regulate fuel pressure. It is possible that this fact was related to the temperature and humidity conditions of the rocket environment and could have caused serious problems if it had been overlooked.
Related to humidity, clouds can also enter into the considerations about taking off or not. The resulting rainfall may be relevant in making the decision to take off, but visibility is also an important factor for some flights.
In general, telemetry allows us today to take off without visibility. Still, engineers are often interested in keeping an eye on the rocket, especially more experimental rockets. The main reason is that, if something goes wrong, all information, including visual information, will be useful when it comes to finding and solving the causes of the incident.
Each rocket and each launch is unique. For example, NASA has a complete list of factors that imply not being able to launch a Falcon 9 Crew Dragon, the manned version of SpaceX’s rocket. These include, among many others, lightning strikes in the last half hour within a radius of 10 nautical miles; the presence in the trajectory of a cloud layer of 1.37 km; or if the wind at a height of 49 meters approaches 50 km/h.
Carefully monitoring the weather is therefore key to a successful launch. The characteristics of the mission can lead the technicians to assume more or less risks. For example, an experimental flight such as SpaceX’s initial flights might require little concern in this regard, while missions with millions of euros and thousands of man hours accumulated will undoubtedly require more caution. Of course, manned rockets will require the highest level of care possible.
The caution in the case of Miura may be due to the fact that the company does not have the investment levels of companies like SpaceX, a company that had the backing of the US space agency, NASA, and tycoon Elon Musk. PLD Space, for its part, just a few months ago surpassed the barrier of 60 million euros in investment, several orders of magnitude below the figures handled by the American company.
In Xataka |
Imagen | NASA/Bill Ingalls