SpaceX's Demo-2 mission called off due to inclement weather, postponed to 31 May, 12.52 am IST

NASA reported that they had been keeping an eye on the weather but rain, clouds, and lightning violated launch criteria throughout the day.

The two NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken were strapped in and had completed communication checks. The fuelling of the rocket had already begun but with just under 17 minutes to go for liftoff, NASA and SpaceX made the choice to cancel their first joint commercial human spaceflight mission due to inclement weather.

While both the space agency and the private aerospace company had mentioned that there was a possibility of it being postponed, this was the most anti-climatic ending for what was going to be the first American lift-off in nine years, since the Space Shuttle program was cancelled back in 2011.

 SpaceXs Demo-2 mission called off due to inclement weather, postponed to 31 May, 12.52 am IST

NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley, left, and Robert Behnken, wearing matchy-matchy SpaceX spacesuits, are seen as they depart the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building for Launch Complex 39A . Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The mission has been rescheduled for an instantaneous launch on Sunday, 31 May, 12.52 am IST (May 30 at 3:22 p.m. EDT) from the Launch Complex 39A from the Kenndy Space Centre, Florida, which was also the launch site for the previous Apollo and Space Shuttle missions and is being leased by SpaceX. It also has another back-up date on Monday, 1 June, 12.30 am IST (Sunday, May 31 at 3:00 p.m. EDT).

Live coverage of the event will begin at 8.30 pm IST on 30 May, four hours before the launch is to take place.

A launch window indicates the time frame on a given day in the launch period (is a collection of days) that the rocket can launch to reach its intended orbit or in this case meet the International Space Station. This can be as short as a second or even the entire day.

The lift-off of the Falcon 9 has to be timed precisely to reach the space station, which is zooming overhead at 400 km above Earth at 17,500 mph. The spacecraft and crew have a launch window of 1-second (instantaneous launch window) otherwise the team will have to make another attempt on another day.

An hour before Dragon was supposed to launch, they were still "in the red" and they would not have been able to launch in those conditions but they continued going through with the launch sequence in the hopes for clearer weather. NASA reported that they had been keeping an eye on the weather the entire time but rain, cumulus clouds, attached anvil clouds, lightning, and field mill data – which measure the amount of electricity in the atmosphere – all violated Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon launch criteria at times throughout the day. They had to cancel the launch when it became evident that the weather would not be cooperating with them. Adding insult to injury, weather reports said that the skies would be clear, around 10 minutes after the launch window had passed, reported ABC News.

NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said "I know there’s a lot of disappointment today, the weather got us" as there was "too much electricity in the atmosphere."

"There wasn’t really a lightning storm or anything like that, but there was a concern that if we did launch it could trigger lightning," he said. "In the end, the right decision was made," he said.

Bridenstine also said, “But it was a great day for NASA. It was a great day for SpaceX. Our teams worked together in a really impressive way, making good decisions all along.”

“We can see raindrops on the windows,” Hurley told NASA. “We understand everybody’s probably a little bummed out, but that’s part of the deal,” he added.

The propellant had already been loaded into the rocket and had to be offloaded before the astronauts could make an exit.

While they do have backup dates, The Independent reports that both Sunday and Monday (IST) have predications of bad weather. The US Air Force’s 45th Space Wing is giving a 60 percent probability of favourable weather on Saturday. However, we will have to wait and watch what happens next.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard is seen on the launch pad at Launch Complex 39A at sunrise as preparations continue for the Demo-2 mission, Wednesday, May 27, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission is the first launch with astronauts of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The test flight serves as an end-to-end demonstration of SpaceX’s crew transportation system. Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley are scheduled to launch at 4:33 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, May 27, from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. A new era of human spaceflight is set to begin as American astronauts once again launch on an American rocket from American soil to low-Earth orbit for the first time since the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard is seen on the launch pad at Launch Complex 39A at sunrise as preparations continue for the Demo-2 mission. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Let's get political

The launch was supposed to be a historic moment in America's history and has pulled political bigwigs to watch the launch. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump both flew down to Florida. Vice President Mike Pence, who is chairman of the National Space Council and his wife Karen Pence also made an appearance.

Trump tweeted his thanks to NASA and SpaceX for their "hard work and leadership" and said he will be coming back for the next launch day. Pence also confirmed their attendance in his tweet.

Mission Background

Hurley, 53 and Behnken, 49 have extensive experience in space and have been involved in NASA's Space Shuttle flights.

Behnken will be the joint operations commander in this mission and was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2000. He has completed two space shuttle flights - STS-123 in March 2008 and STS-130 in February 2010 and performed three spacewalks during each mission.

Hurley was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2000 and will be the spacecraft commander for Demo-2. He has completed two spaceflights - STS‐127 in July 2009 and STS‐135, the final space shuttle mission, in July 2011. He was the pilot and lead robotics operator for both missions.

NASA awarded two commercial crew program contracts in 2014 NASA and Boeing to develop a spacecraft that will be able to carry people to space by 2017 - Boeing got $ 4.2 billion for its Starliner capsule and SpaceX got $2.6 billion for Crew Dragon. The Demo-2 mission is almost three years behind schedule for this launch.

SpaceX wants to use the Crew Dragon to fly tourists into space. image credit: SpaceX/Wikipedia

SpaceX wants to use the Crew Dragon to fly tourists into space. image credit: SpaceX/Wikipedia

Crew Dragon is capable of carrying up to seven passengers to and from Earth orbit, and beyond but will only be carrying four passengers during NASA human spaceflight launches. The capsule is about three metres in diameter and eight metres high and can carry 6,000 kgs. Before it was modified to carry human beings, SpaceX was using the Dragon as a cargo carrier, for resupply missions to the ISS.

Like the rocket and crew capsule, even the astronaut suits were designed and produced in-house and is custom made to fit ever astronaut that will travel in Crew Dragon. The suits include a 3D-printed helmet and touchscreen-compatible gloves and is an integral part of the mission. It provides oxygen for the astronauts to breathe and also helps them in communicating with the ground team.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 is a partially-reusable two-stage-to-orbit launch vehicle. Its first stage is capable of re-entering the atmosphere and landing vertically after separating from the second stage, which is why it is partially re-usable. SpaceX successfully landed its first stage during its 20th flight in December 2015. The second stage of the rocket has a single-engine that can deliver its payload to whichever orbit is required. The engine can be restarted multiple times to deliver multiple payloads into different orbits. A two-stage-to-orbit or two-stage rocket launch vehicle is a spacecraft in which two distinct stages provide propulsion consecutively in order to achieve orbital velocity.

Demo-2 is supposed to be the final test for SpaceX’s human spaceflight system before it can be certified by NASA for operational crew missions to and from the International Space Station. This mission will also lay the groundwork for all their future missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. This test flight will serve as an end-to-end demonstration of SpaceX’s crew transportation system.

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