MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. – The dark clouds and rain surrounding the Falcon 9 rocket standing tall at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A on Monday and Tuesday don’t offer the brightest outlook for the upcoming liftoff that’s now one day away, the first with astronauts since 2011. However, all signs indicate NASA and SpaceX are moving forward with the planned Demo-2 mission.
“The only thing we need to do is figure out how to control the weather,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager.
Elon Musk’s private space company SpaceX will be the first to launch humans to orbit and return the storied history of human spaceflight to Florida’s Coast on Wednesday, but none of that can happen unless the weather cooperates.
Live views of the launch pad were dismal Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, with wind, rain and gray clouds surrounding the space center.
Two days ahead of the planned liftoff, weather officers with the 45th Weather Squadron say there is a 40% chance weather conditions will not violate the launch criteria and Falcon 9 can launch astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station.
Thankfully, SpaceX wasn’t attempting to launch Monday, said Mike McAleenan, launch weather officer with the 45th Weather Squadron.
“We’re in the weather sales business not production. So you’ll have to talk to somebody else about that part of it,” McAleenan quipped. “But I will tell you that we’re very happy we’re not launching today, we’ve had nearly two inches of rain so far along the spaceport, and we’re not quite done yet.”
On Tuesday, a tropical wave will move out over the Atlantic Ocean, keeping tropical moisture in the forecast for Central Florida through Wednesday. The latest models show accumulations of 2 to 4 inches of rain by midweek.
According to the latest launch forecast, the primary concerns Wednesday are thick cloud cover and rain.
McAleenan said the weather should improve by Wednesday to a 60% chance of good launch conditions.
“It’s been trending better over the last day or two for launch weather,” McAleenan said.
The problem with attempting a rocket launch during a Florida spring is we’re now in wet season, when afternoon rain showers typically blanket the coast.
There are certain launch and recovery criteria NASA and SpaceX must meet in order to get the rocket off the ground.
Weather officers and SpaceX are closely monitoring not only conditions around the launch pad but conditions at sea in case of a launch abort, which would send the Crew Dragon away from the rocket and land it in the Atlantic Ocean.
While most of the state has been dry, the much-needed rain could dampen the chances of the launch going off as scheduled. SpaceX is targeting Saturday as a backup window if Wednesday’s opportunity is scrubbed.
Come launch day, the decision about a delay will be made before the spacecraft’s abort system is armed, SpaceX vice president of build and flight reliability Hans Koenigsmann said in a call with reporters Thursday.
“Usually when we have a satellite to launch we go all the way down to the wire in this case we don’t want to do that,” Koenigsmann said.
SpaceX will look at the launch and recovery conditions 6 hours and 4 hours ahead of launch and then again at 45 minutes when they are about to arm the escape system, at that point launch officials will need to make the call if they move forward or try again another day.