Science and Technology News

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Countdown To Endeavour: Brush Fire at Kennedy Space Center

By Carla Voorhees

Kathy Winters is an Air Force Civilian Meteorologist at the 45th Weather Squadron at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. She is the Space Shuttle Launch Weather Officer providing weather support to the Space Shuttle Program at Kennedy Space Center as the Launch Team prepares for the 29 April 2011 launch of Endeavour. You can find out more about the 45th Space Wing at their Facebook page.

Wednesday was a busy day. The day started with issuing the Ice Team Forecast update and the L-2 Day launch forecast. Then I briefed weather at the L-2 day Shuttle Mission Management Team (MMT) meeting. Following the MMT meeting, it was off to the press site for a press conference with Mike Moses, the Launch Integration Manager, and Mike Leinbach, the Launch Director. I am always surprised I get invited to this press briefing, but since weather causes approximately 50% of launch scrubs, NASA public affairs asks me to brief the weather and be available for any questions.

After the press briefing Wednesday, I saw this fire at Kennedy Space Center about 3 nautical miles from the Shuttle launch pad. When fires like this occur, the 45th Weather Squadron gets calls from Kennedy Space Center personnel for current and forecast weather information, particularly wind speed and direction, so actions can be taken to protect personnel and resources. Also, cumulus clouds formed above the fire which had our launch team thinking about our smoke plume rule in the lightning launch commit criteria.  On launch day, if a cumulus cloud formed from a fire and moved into the path of the launch, weather would be RED for the Smoke Plume rule until 60 minutes after the cloud detached from the smoke plume. As you can imagine, sometimes it can be difficult to tell when a cumulus cloud detaches from the smoke plume, and unless we are clearly convinced a lightning launch commit criteria (PDF) is not violated, weather is RED for launch.

A Solid Rocket Booster Recovery operation in process
Thursday, we meet with the Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) recovery team to give them a weather outlook before they depart. It takes the ships, the Freedom Star and Liberty Star, about 24 hours to reach the SRB Recovery area. Weather is going to be a bit rough for their trip Thursday as a cold front moves through, but nothing that would prevent them from getting to the area on time. On launch day, winds will be from the north in the SRB recovery area, and seas 5 to 6 feet—not a smooth day, but well within their weather constraints.

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