CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – After a series of lightning strikes overnight, and inclement conditions this morning, the launch of NASA's Ares 1-X test rocket is on hold until 11:30 a.m.
NASA needs a 5 to 6 minute window of clear skies, but weather conditions have been too dynamic to allow the space agency to predict when that window will open up. An estimated 154 lightning strikes were reported within a 5-mile radius of the launch pad overnight, while clouds and wind have prevented a launch so far this morning.
After scrambling this morning at the T-minus 4-minute hold mark to retest the Ares I-X rocket, NASA has ensured that no critical parts were damaged by the weather. NASA remains confident that Ares is launch-ready. But will the weather hold?
The only issue NASA faces this morning is the inclement weather conditions. Measurements from weather balloons, weather reconnaissance craft in the area and satellite pictures led the agency to determine that there would be a 20 percent chance of weather related disturbance at 11 a.m. But the weather has proven fickle.
But the space agency is closely watching the "triboelectrification rule," and has been delaying the launch because of it. According to NASA's launch blog, "flying through high-level clouds can generate 'P-static' (P for precipitation), which can create a corona of static around the rocket that interferes with radio signals sent by or to the rocket."
NASA Launch Control noted that the booster-retrieval ship Freedom will recover the booster from the Atlantic after launch today. The ship should be back in port by Friday.
Clouds, snagged tethers and even a misdirected cargo ship within the danger area in the Atlantic Ocean contributed to an eventual postponement in Monday's scheduled launch of the Ares 1-X, a trial version of the rocket NASA hopes will ferry astronauts to low-Earth orbit aboard an Orion spacecraft.
The test rocket includes a real solid-rocket first stage, with a mock second stage and dummy Orion crew capsule on top to simulate the intended weight and size of Ares I. Ares I-X is the tallest booster in service or about to fly and stands about 327 feet high — 14 stories taller than NASA's space shuttles.