Bad Weather May Affect This Weekend’s Rescheduled Historic Commercial Crew Rocket Launch

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard is seen on the launch pad at Launch Complex 39A. NASA/Bill Ingalls

The first attempt at NASA’s and SpaceX's first-ever commercial crew launch yesterday ended less than 17 minutes before scheduled liftoff due to weather conditions, to the disappointment of many. The next available launch window was swiftly announced to be this weekend, however, weather reports are suggesting even worse weather conditions for both Saturday and Sunday.

The weather for the historic launch – the first private spacecraft to take people to space and the first spacecraft to launch from US soil in nearly a decade – was not good enough to guarantee the safety of experienced astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley. The next available launch window is Saturday, May 30, at 3.22pm EDT, which the Kennedy Space Center in Florida has confirmed is when the launch has been rescheduled for, but the weather forecast continues to be iffy and the launch could end up being postponed to June.

According to the US Air Force 45th Weather Squadron Launch Mission Execution Forecast issued today the chance of unsafe weather conditions for both Saturday and Sunday is currently 60 percent, meaning there is currently only a 40 percent chance of it going ahead. Yesterday, the probability of weather conditions allowing for a safe launch went down to 50/50 from Tuesday's 60 percent forecast weather would not interfere and the launch would go ahead. It then went down to 40/60 as the effect of Tropical Storm Bertha became more significant.

The second alternative date for launch is May 31, 3 pm EDT. If neither go ahead, no new launch window has been announced yet. The final decision if a launch is a "go" usually occurs 45 minutes before liftoff. Yesterday's 17 minutes cut it pretty fine, so we may not find out if the launch has been postponed again until right up to the launch time.

The Commercial Crew Program is an experimental initiative that has seen NASA partner up with private space companies SpaceX and Boeing for the first time to reduce the cost of transporting astronauts to low-earth orbit. Currently, NASA hitches a ride to the International Space Station (ISS) on Russia's Soyuz capsule, at a cost of $80 million a seat. Launching astronauts from home soil on a private company vehicle will cut the cost by an estimated third.

The saving in both money and personnel time are being redirected to human deep-space missions such as the return to the Moon, currently scheduled for 2024, and the eventual mission to Mars. When it launches, the first Commercial Crew launch will see astronauts launch on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and fly to the ISS in SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule. It will be SpaceX's first crewed mission, after successfully sending the uncrewed capsule to the ISS last year.

If the rescheduled launch does go ahead on Saturday, you will be able to watch it stream live on NASA's TV channel and social media channels (here is the full list of how and where to stream), or you can watch it stream live on the IFLScience Facebook page.

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