85th AMS Annual Meeting

Tuesday, 11 January 2005: 3:30 PM
Weather Support to the Space Shuttle - An Historical Perspective
Dan G. Bellue, NOAA/NWS, Houston, TX; and B. F. Boyd, W. W. Vaughan, T. Garner, J. W. Weems, J. T. Madura, and H. C. Herring
Poster PDF (1.3 MB)
The mission success and safety of aerospace vehicles present unique weather support challenges. While weather support requirements to ensure the safe processing, launch, and landing of these vehicles have been continuously reviewed and improved since the first successful missile launch at Cape Canaveral in July 1950, this paper only addresses weather support to the Space Shuttle.

The paper describes weather support to the Space Shuttle from the time of its approval by President Nixon in 1972 through Columbia’s accident in 2003, a period of more than 30 years. The paper focuses on three areas: System Design, primarily the responsibility of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center; Ground Processing and Launch Support, primarily the responsibility of the United States Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) and Kennedy Space Center (KSC); and Space Flight and Landing support, primarily the responsibility of NOAA’s Spaceflight Meteorology Group at Johnson Space Center.

The importance of weather in system design is discussed from the extensive testing prior to the first successful Space Shuttle launch in 1981 through the first four test launches. Weather equipment used for the first launch and changes throughout the period of support are described, as well as weather support for pre-launch and special missions. Launch commit criteria and flight rules in force prior to and after major accidents are described in detail.

The effective use of weather information translates both into annual cost savings of millions of dollars through timely management decisions, and into paramount contributions to safety. Over the last 20 years, approximately 50 percent of all scrubbed launch countdowns (Shuttle and expendable vehicles) at CCAFS/KSC and diverted or delayed landing attempts at KSC have been due to weather conditions. The reasons for these launch scrubs/delays/diversions are examined. This paper describes the evolution of weather instrumentation from the original sensors through present day systems and future plans; discusses test procedures; and summarizes the importance of instrumentation changes to assure America’s continued success in the space launch program.

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