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Eta presents ‘forecasting challenge’ as SpaceX attempts to launch NASA astronauts this weekend

Crew-1 launch planned for Nov. 14 at 7:49 p.m.

Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon at launchpad 39A at Kennedy Space Center ahead of the Crew-1 launch. (Image: NASA)
Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon at launchpad 39A at Kennedy Space Center ahead of the Crew-1 launch. (Image: NASA) (WKMG 2020)

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – The ever-changing path of Tropical Storm Eta is providing a “forecasting challenge” for Space Force weather officers as they try to determine what conditions will be like for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket on Saturday when its set to blast off from Kennedy Space Center carrying four astronauts to the space station.

The 45th Weather Squadron issued its first forecast Wednesday, four days before SpaceX is slated to launch the Crew-1 mission from Launchpad 39A carrying NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, along with Japanese Space Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi to the International Space Station.

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SpaceX launches astronauts for NASA and its international partners, under the agency’s commercial crew program, using the Falcon 9 rocket and the Crew Dragon spacecraft. The astronaut crew named their space vehicle Resilience, fitting amid a global pandemic and a launch up against a hurricane.

Four days out weather officers are giving the Saturday liftoff at 7:49 p.m. a 60% chance of favorable launch conditions. however, it’s too soon to tell if that will hold. Eta, formerly a hurricane, “will remain a stubborn forecasting challenge over the next few days as it moves north very near the west central Florida coast,” according to the forecast.

Eta has been swirling in the Gulf Coast since last weekend and already made landfall twice, bringing flooding across South Florida and along the east coast. As of Wednesday, the storm track puts it making landfall in the Florida Big Ben region north of Tampa on Thursday.

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“This will bring another period of higher winds and better rain chances across the Spaceport from this afternoon through at least late Thursday,” according to the 45th Weather Squadron forecast. This could present a challenge as NASA and SpaceX were planning a dress rehearsal of the launch on Thursday. As of now, that is still planned to go ahead.

On Saturday, the primary weather concern will be cloud cover and rainfall around the launch site. SpaceX also has backup launch opportunities on Sunday and Monday those will also see storm chances, according to the current forecast.

The launch forecast does not include the stringent weather criteria at sea should their be an emergency launch abort which could send the Dragon spacecraft away from the rocket landing at sea anywhere in the Atlantic Ocean between the eastern U.S. and south of Ireland.

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These criteria include wave height, lightning, wind and rainfall should teams need to recover Dragon Resilience at sea. Weather is monitored at more than 50 locations along the Falcon 9 ascent track along the North American eastern seaboard and across the North Atlantic.

Outside of the unpredictable weather and one rocket part replacement, all other milestones to launch have gone smoothly this week.

Managers for both NASA and SpaceX completed the Flight Readiness Review (FRR) on Tuesday, giving SpaceX the go-ahead to proceed with the Crew-1 launch planned for this Saturday at 7:49 p.m. from Kennedy Space Center.

Another milestone for SpaceX was also announced Tuesday as NASA has officially given the Crew Dragon spacecraft human flight certification, something SpaceX has been working toward since it was selected to fly astronauts in 2014.

SpaceX performed a hot fire the Falcon 9 engines at the launch pad Wednesday afternoon clearing the way for Saturday’s liftoff.

“Teams will continue monitoring weather conditions for liftoff and along the flight path,” SpaceX said in a tweet.

At this point, it’s up to the weather if the launch happens. It is 2020 and anything is possible, even good weather.

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