It’s been a really exciting past few days, we have been VERY close to launching this rocket. Science conditions were almost ideal yesterday but surface winds at Andøya foiled our attempt once again. Weather is finally starting to cooperate a little bit so we have been able to go through a more typical routine.
The launch team at Andøya is on station every day by 3:00 AM local time to start getting the rocket ready. They perform diagnostic checks for about three hours prior to the launch window opening for the day.
Once ground checks are done, the rocket is ready to elevate into launch position. At this point the official countdown holds at T – 45 minutes, or 45 minutes away from liftoff. Before the rocket can go vertical, the winds need to cooperate. Weather balloons are sent up every 30 minutes or so to measure wind profiles up to 10 miles above the ground. If the winds are really strong (4o+ mph) the rocket won’t even come out of the building in order to protect the styrofoam box.
If the winds are calm enough, the door opens, the building slides back on rails, and the launcher moves to the vertical position. The launcher orientation is constantly adjusted as trajectory for the rocket flight is re-calculated every few minutes based on wind measurements. If the wind speeds are too high in any given direction or vary too wildly from minute to minute we have to wait for conditions to improve. If calm enough, the launch facility is evacuated of any non-essential personnel and the countdown continues, holding at T – 15 minutes.
At Andenes and here on Svalbard, the science teams begin monitoring solar wind conditions around 4:00 AM each morning. It is important to watch the general trends of activity like any weather forecast. The NASA satellite, ACE, orbits between the sun and earth and gives measurements of solar wind conditions that typically hit the earth between 45 minutes to an hour later. With practice the team is able to predict when the aurora will begin to appear overhead. Once things start to look interesting, the science team gives the go-ahead and the countdown continues.
Often the count will hold at T – 2 minutes while the science team makes its final determination. Yesterday we got all the way down to T- 2 minutes and held for nearly 30 minutes. As we began to get close to the 2 minute mark, winds began to vary too dramatically, even though the aurora overhead was just about ideal. While waiting for the winds to behave we literally ran out of time in the launch window and we had to call it a day.
We only have about a week left in the window with a chance to launch so the whole team is starting to get a bit antsy. We keep our fingers crossed for the weather conditions to come together one of these mornings. I really hope the next post I share will have details about a successful launch!
Until next time…