Why Kennedy Space Center is prime launch site for Artemis 1 despite lightning risks

There are plenty of reasons for NASA’s scheduled rocket launches to be scrubbed. Artemis 1’s scheduled Monday morning launch was pushed back until at least Friday due to a series of mechanical issues. But even before that, we got a glimpse of another potential threat to launch plans: lightning. Several bright bolts were caught on camera on Saturday, striking large towers positioned around the launch pad. Those towers are specifically designed to deflect lightning away from the rocket and other important structures at the pad. NASA has very strict criteria for launch weather. That includes holding a launch if there is a threat for or detection of lightning within 10 nautical miles of a flight path. According to meteorologist Chris Vagasky, who specializes in lightning data applications, Florida sees an average of 14 million lightning strikes each year. “Lightning is a concern every day in the summertime in Florida where you have interactions between the land and the sea breezes,” Vagasky said. “You can kind of time your watch to it.” Given that high risk, why does NASA use Kennedy Space Center as its primary launch facility? There are two big reasons: public safety and fuel efficiency. Cape Canaveral’s location on the Atlantic Coast puts launch paths over the open ocean. If something were to go wrong, it would happen over the water instead of in populated land areas. NASA Kennedy is also just about as far south as you can get in the continental United States. That helps to give a rocket a little extra boost from Earth’s rotation. This is because areas closer to the equator spin around Earth’s axis faster than areas closer to the poles. For example, if you were to stand on the ground in Sacramento, you’d be traveling at about 750 mph around Earth’s axis. In Cape Canaveral, you’d be spinning at about 900 mph. The difference is small relative to the 25,000 mph speed needed for Artemis 1 to break out of Earth’s gravity, but every bit counts when it comes to saving on rocket fuel. So despite the lightning risk, NASA Kennedy is well-positioned to conduct rocket launches .Vagasky said that as we head into September, the risk for lightning along Florida’s Atlantic Coast slowly drops as we lose a little bit of the heat that fuels thunderstorms. For now, Vagasky said the weather outlook is favorable for Friday’s potential launch window.

There are plenty of reasons for NASA’s scheduled rocket launches to be scrubbed.

Artemis 1’s scheduled Monday morning launch was pushed back until at least Friday due to a series of mechanical issues. But even before that, we got a glimpse of another potential threat to launch plans: lightning.

Several bright bolts were caught on camera on Saturday, striking large towers positioned around the launch pad. Those towers are specifically designed to deflect lightning away from the rocket and other important structures at the pad.

NASA has very strict criteria for launch weather. That includes holding a launch if there is a threat for or detection of lightning within 10 nautical miles of a flight path.

According to meteorologist Chris Vagasky, who specializes in lightning data applications, Florida sees an average of 14 million lightning strikes each year.

“Lightning is a concern every day in the summertime in Florida where you have interactions between the land and the sea breezes,” Vagasky said. “You can kind of time your watch to it.”

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Given that high risk, why does NASA use Kennedy Space Center as its primary launch facility? There are two big reasons: public safety and fuel efficiency.

Cape Canaveral’s location on the Atlantic Coast puts launch paths over the open ocean. If something were to go wrong, it would happen over the water instead of in populated land areas.

NASA Kennedy is also just about as far south as you can get in the continental United States. That helps to give a rocket a little extra boost from Earth’s rotation. This is because areas closer to the equator spin around Earth’s axis faster than areas closer to the poles. For example, if you were to stand on the ground in Sacramento, you’d be traveling at about 750 mph around Earth’s axis. In Cape Canaveral, you’d be spinning at about 900 mph.

The difference is small relative to the 25,000 mph speed needed for Artemis 1 to break out of Earth’s gravity, but every bit counts when it comes to saving on rocket fuel.

So despite the lightning risk, NASA Kennedy is well-positioned to conduct rocket launches.

Vagasky said that as we head into September, the risk for lightning along Florida’s Atlantic Coast slowly drops as we lose a little bit of the heat that fuels thunderstorms. For now, Vagasky said the weather outlook is favorable for Friday’s potential launch window.

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