Growing into a dangerous Category 5 storm, Hurricane Irma has roared towards islands in the northeast Caribbean Tuesday amid fears that it can even head to the United States. It is a cause of worry for Elon Musk too as Hurricane Irma, which is bearing down on florida, may cast a shadow on the launch of a secretive mini-shuttle.
Weather conditions are likely to be unfavourable for the launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center. Air Force's 45th Weather Squadron has said that a 50 per cent chance of violating weather rules are expected as SpaceX will attempt to launch the plane from pad 39A during a yet-to-be-announced window.
"Hurricane Irma is forecast to be approximately 950 miles southeast of the Spaceport during Thursday’s launch attempt, so while Irma certainly bears watching, it will not be a factor in Thursday’s weather," forecasters said, noting that thick and cumulus clouds were the primary concerns.
If delayed to Friday, the launch probabilities will be diminished even further to 40 per cent ‘go’ as Hurricane Irma churns about 650 miles to the southeast of the Eastern Range, encompassing Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. What would be added to the list of concerns will be an increase in low-level winds.
"The pressure gradient between the high pressure area behind the frontal boundary and Hurricane Irma will begin to tighten," forecasters said. "This will create northeast low-level winds that will strengthen, becoming 20 mph by the end of the launch window."
A specific launch time has neither been disclosed by the Air Force nor SpaceX. However, the Federal Aviation Administration has issued a notice to aviators, indicated that the airspace would be closed between 9:20 am and 2:55 pm.
A few minutes after liftoff, the first stage of the rocket could dive back down to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone 1, generating a powerful sonic boom on the way.
The Air Force's fifth Orbital Test Vehicle mission, or OTV-5 will mark SpaceX’s first attempt to boost the 11,000-pound unmanned space plane to low Earth orbit. There are only two of the Boeing-built spacecraft and each measure about 29 feet long with a 15-foot wingspan.
"The fifth OTV mission continues to advance the X-37B’s performance and flexibility as a space technology demonstrator and host platform for experimental payloads," the Air Force said in a release last week.
"This mission carries small satellite ride shares and will demonstrate greater opportunities for rapid space access and on-orbit testing of emerging space technologies."