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The feasibility of all weather launch capability


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Even using the commercial aviation model, there will be grounding. Spacecraft are higher ticket vehicles, and I think cadence will never be at the point that it's worth whatever excess risk when you can just wait a few days.

Making them more capable in what are now marginal cases might be a different issue, I suppose it depends on cost of potential losses vs the cost of delays.

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Even if you have an underground "space gun" launcher you'll still be unable to launch in (for instance) a tornado.  Payload carrier comes out of the gun at 10+ km/s, and spends a large fraction of a second exposed to a 150 m/s crosswind -- and doesn't go where it's intended.  Anything slower would just be torn apart by the wind shear (zero to 150 m/s over a few meters), and any launch vehicle at all would be vulnerable to impacts from windborne debris.

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14 minutes ago, Gaarst said:

A couple glasses of vodka, and a Russian rocket seems to be all it takes.

Edit: stupide mobile software, just Google TMA-22.

Holy smokes, so it seems... 

"Soyuz TMA-22 was launched in blizzard-like conditions, with high winds and temperatures as low as −5 °C (23 °F)."

Look, obviously a tornado, hurricane, earthquake, massive wildfire, and similar such natural disasters are more than mere weather, so let's not use those as disqualifiers. 

Edited by Nothalogh
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Russian stuff tend to be pretty sturdy, part is design philosophy, as in not push thing 101% in the chase of the extra 1% performance. 
Still planes has weather issues too, heavy snow is an issue for planes, don't think it affect rockets much once at pad. 
rockets don't like lighting, part is the pointed shape and the long plasma stream below making them perfect lighting rods. 
You could lighting prof an rocket, and its probably not much of an issue anyway with an metal skin, so its more like the no cell phones on planes case, just to be sure. 

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Despite thousands of performed experiments, research and simulations with and without the flights crews on Apollo hardware, it still can be unpredictable and a learning experience every time you launch.

In the words of the Apollo 12 Commander, Pete Conrad, after the infamous lightning strikes, "we need to put this through a little bit more all weather testing gang!". In fact, the mission was a guaranteed failure until young John Aaron saved the mission by alerting the crew what to do when quite literally no one else knew what to do.

3 hours ago, Gaarst said:

A couple glasses of vodka and a Russian rocket seems to be all it takes.

 

Or 3 American sailors and one young EECOM :) .

1 hour ago, magnemoe said:

Russian stuff tend to be pretty sturdy, part is design philosophy, as in not push thing 101% in the chase of the extra 1% performance. 
Still planes has weather issues too, heavy snow is an issue for planes, don't think it affect rockets much once at pad. 
rockets don't like lighting, part is the pointed shape and the long plasma stream below making them perfect lighting rods. 
You could lighting prof an rocket, and its probably not much of an issue anyway with an metal skin, so its more like the no cell phones on planes case, just to be sure. 

For when the rocket is on the ground, (at least in FL) NASA has a electrical "fence" to push lightning away (forget the technical term for them) around the launchpads. Once their airbourne, it's all up to fate then.

Edited by ZooNamedGames
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21 minutes ago, Bill Phil said:

Hurricanes have more energy than atomic bombs.

Can I have the source on that? Having lived through several and despite trail and error, it's difficult to find a survivor of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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4 minutes ago, ZooNamedGames said:

Can I have the source on that? Having lived through several and despite trail and error, it's difficult to find a survivor of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Energy is a squishy term, what matters is the timeframe it is experienced in.

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16 minutes ago, Nothalogh said:

Energy is a squishy term, what matters is the timeframe it is experienced in.

I won't deny their power, but in pure rate of energy release compared to an atomic blast is a bit of a hyperbole.

Edited by ZooNamedGames
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There are a lot of factors to tell you what's a weather is. So I'll try break them down and probably make them into some sensible grouping :

1. Wind. This will veers you off course. You probably need to expend extra energy to stay on course (well, depends on direction and speed), or you won't be in the direction you're intending to go. So it's down to the margins you're using : an OP launcher could easily deal with it. Not to mention that the heavier your rocket the less affected it becomes, and once you're supersonic it's probably not something to worry. Two extra bits on wind :

1.a. Gusts. Sudden turbulence basically. Probably more to do with structural strength.

1.b. Windshear. Changes in overall wind characteristics between places. Something to do with structures again, but given that rockets don't create lift it's probably OK.

2. Precipitation. Actually, it's not that bad, given that rockets create their own hail (ices during filling). Even combined with wind it's not as crazy as those space junks.

3. Temperature. More to do with the general system. Parts could be iced over, risking electrical short. I presume the soyuz has less of them, which helps things.

4. Electrical discharge (lightning bolt). Actually, metal rockets are faraday cages so it miight be fine. Mileages vary between designs, though.

So, is it possible ? Probably yes. But, if the weather's bad enough, it's probably the crews that can't stand the weather, not the rocket, and it's never a good idea to launch during times where debris are in the air (as may happen in a hurricane). That russian blizzard must be weaker than floridian tropical storms, as storms overland tends to be weaker.

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5 hours ago, tater said:

Even using the commercial aviation model, there will be grounding. Spacecraft are higher ticket vehicles, and I think cadence will never be at the point that it's worth whatever excess risk when you can just wait a few days.

Making them more capable in what are now marginal cases might be a different issue, I suppose it depends on cost of potential losses vs the cost of delays.

Tired from setting up all day for an event this weekend, but Tater has it spot on.  You have to balance the costs (mostly potential performance losses) against the benefits.

People are pointing towards TMA-22's launch conditions, but don't mention schedule pressure...  it had already been delayed two months, meaning TMA-02M was that much closer to it's "expiration date" (Soyuz only has a limited lifespan on-orbit).  The delay of -22 also meant crew rotation was delayed.  The Soviets and Russians have launched in some awful weather, but from the available evidence they don't make a habit of it.

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1 hour ago, ZooNamedGames said:

Can I have the source on that? Having lived through several and despite trail and error, it's difficult to find a survivor of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Various. The energy of the Little Boy bomb was approximately 63 terajoules, 15 kilotons of TNT, according to http://www.atomicheritage.org/history/little-boy-and-fat-man.

The energy of a hurricane depends on the hurricane, as does the energy of an atomic bomb, but the average kinetic energy of a hurricane, according to this site, http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/hrd/tcfaq/D7.html, the average kinetic energy released in a day is 1.3 * 10^17 Joules. A terajoule is 10^12.

Total energy released is much higher, albeit over a vastly longer amount of time and over a much larger area.

There were about 650 thousand people who survived the atomic bombings, well over 150 thousand still alive as of March 2016. At least, according to this article: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hibakusha. It does have a citation after that claim, but it is still Wikipedia... In any case, many people did survive the bombings.

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59 minutes ago, DerekL1963 said:

Tired from setting up all day for an event this weekend, but Tater has it spot on.  You have to balance the costs (mostly potential performance losses) against the benefits.

People are pointing towards TMA-22's launch conditions, but don't mention schedule pressure...  it had already been delayed two months, meaning TMA-02M was that much closer to it's "expiration date" (Soyuz only has a limited lifespan on-orbit).  The delay of -22 also meant crew rotation was delayed.  The Soviets and Russians have launched in some awful weather, but from the available evidence they don't make a habit of it.

Correct on all those points, but I was merely asking this from an engineering standpoint.

Not "should we?", just "could we?"

 

Secondly, the reason this comes to mind is one thing SpaceX plans on is the development of a capability for an insane launch cadence.

Which means that if they're serious, this will be a legitimate engineering obstacle.

Edited by Nothalogh
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SpaceX desires a 24 hour turn around for boosters. This goal has nothing to do with launch cadence. Time is, as they say, money. The goal is a vehicle that effectively needs almost no refurb to fly again (and a little longer every 10 launches or something). Not to fly it the next day, simply because that's less labor and material cost.

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4 hours ago, Nothalogh said:

Correct on all those points, but I was merely asking this from an engineering standpoint.

Not "should we?", just "could we?"

You can. The Japanese deals with it all the time, skyscrapers and bridge tower/piers. But it'd be stupendously expensive. And as I said, who'd control a launch in a hurricane ? In a frostingly cold blizzard (hmm, - 40 degrees) ? I'd care more about my belongings...

Edited by YNM
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The launch conditions for Soyuz TMA-22 were not really that bad. There was a blizzard, but blizzards in continental deserts are not the kind of "there will be 3 m of snow and the civilization will collapse" disasters you might expect near a major body of water. It's more like "it's uncomfortable outside, and you might get lost if you lose the sight of landmarks".

First, commercial airlines routinely deal with precipitation under freezing temperatures. If it's cheap enough and safe enough for them, it should also be cheap enough and safe enough for orbital launches.

Second, the wind conditions were described as "high winds". That sounds like Beaufort force 6-7 or 11-17 m/s, which is borderline for most rocket launches.

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7 hours ago, tater said:

SpaceX desires a 24 hour turn around for boosters. This goal has nothing to do with launch cadence. Time is, as they say, money. The goal is a vehicle that effectively needs almost no refurb to fly again (and a little longer every 10 launches or something). Not to fly it the next day, simply because that's less labor and material cost.


Again, Tater is spot on.  SpaceX is planning on rapid turnaround (minimal maintenance), not high cadence.

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I suspect it would be easier to simply launch someplace without weather.  Mojave and Vandenberg should come close for the US, but I'd probably build in the middle of a desert known for low winds if it was all that critical (and in the end it probably isn't worth it).  I also rather doubt you can really get a good launch over ocean from any constant-weather location [anywhere in the Australian outback with an unpopulated channel east to the ocean?].

Orbital (and Stratolaunch if you want to pay big bucks for more than a few tons to LEO) appears to have the answer right now (especially if you can re-adjust your window after moving the plane to somewhere that has sufficiently friendly weather).  Orbital only gets a flight every few years on Pegasus, and Stratolaunch's outlook is far more bleak.

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Aside from the sort of places where rational people wouldn't want to live/work that are deserts without much weather (we'll keep it sanitized for the sake of forum policy), most such places still have weather that could be a problem. Take the silly New Mexico "Spaceport America" a few hours south of me. They might only get 6 inches of rain a year (~15cm), but come summer time, there will be lightning storms virtually every day in the afternoon, even if the actual rain is virga (rainfall that doesn't reach the ground, because it evaporates before hitting the ground---yeah, that's a thing here common enough to need a word :wink: ). That also ignores the problem of large chunks of metal raining down on states to the NE of NM, lol. Even with landed boosters, somethings things don't work, and a 10 story booster falling on OK will be considered unacceptable to people in OK I bet.

It seems like the reusable tread, combined with rapid turn around (from a labor standpoint), combined with more automated range control will make trying again even less costly than it is now, making weather holds/scrubs even less important from a financial standpoint.

I think that "all weather" will never be a thing, honestly.

The scrub parameters seems pretty reasonable, honestly, it's all about lightning, high wind shears that could alter trajectory, and icing.

https://www.nasa.gov/pdf/649911main_051612_falcon9_weather_criteria.pdf

Maybe they could make the distances to clouds slightly closer, but past that, it seems pretty unlikely when the only cost is time (and the obvious labor costs associated with redoing a launch). The solution is not all-weather launch vehicles, it's making the costs of setting up and executing a launch lower.

Edited by tater
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13 hours ago, ZooNamedGames said:

Can I have the source on that? Having lived through several and despite trail and error, it's difficult to find a survivor of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

An nuclear bomb releases all its energy in a millisecond, for an tornado its many hours if you start then it hit land to its just an normal storm. 
This is also an mistake with meteorite impacts, energy is released over seconds making it less dangerous than an nuclear bomb with the same energy.

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