Applied Meteorology Unit Provides Local Weather Model using SPoRT Datasets for Orion Flight Test

The inaugural Orion flight test successfully lifted off from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard a Delta IV Heavy rocket the morning of 5 December (Fig. 1), following a scrubbed launch attempt the previous day. Orion is designed to take humans beyond Earth orbit into deep space, including missions to an asteroid and eventually Mars.

Fig 1. A Delta IV Heavy rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida carrying NASA's Orion spacecraft on an unpiloted flight test to Earth orbit. (photo credit: NASA)

Figure 1. A Delta IV Heavy rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida carrying NASA’s Orion spacecraft on an unpiloted flight test to Earth orbit. (photo credit: NASA)

The Applied Meteorology Unit (AMU) operated by ENSCO, Inc. at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida has transitioned a high-resolution configuration of the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) numerical weather prediction (NWP) model to support ground and launch operations at the Eastern Range (ER) and Wallops Flight Facility (WFF). The AMU-WRF runs a nested modeling domain with the highest-resolution nest (1.33-km grid spacing) centered on the ER launch facility (Fig. 2) and uses two initialization datasets from NASA/SPoRT: (1) Land Information System soil moisture and soil temperature data, and (2) the high-resolution (2-km) northern hemispheric sea surface temperature product.

Figure 2.  Grid setup of the AMU-WRF model as transitioned into operations at the 45 WS.

Figure 2. Grid setup of the AMU-WRF model as used by the 45th Weather Squadron.

The ER and WFF require high-resolution numerical weather prediction model output to provide more accurate and timely forecasts of unique weather phenomena that can affect NASA’s Space Launch System, Launch Services Program, and Ground Systems Development and Operations Program daily operations and space-launch activities. Global and national-scale models cannot properly resolve important mesoscale features due to their horizontal resolutions being much too coarse.

Daily and weekly weather forecasts issued by the 45th Weather Squadron (45 WS) are used as decision tools for their day-to-day and launch operations at the ER. The 45 WS and vehicle Launch Weather Officer (LWO) use NWP models as a guide for these weather forecasts. Forecasters have found the AMU-WRF model performance quite useful. It has frequently been the preferred model to help accurately identify complex, small-scale boundary interactions. Of particular note, its rapid hourly update capability adjust to dynamic changes in weather features, aiding the LWO during sensitive ground and launch operations that require specific timing accuracy.

During the Orion launch operations on 4 and 5 December 2014, the LWO relied on AMU-WRF low-level wind, fog and precipitation output variables as part of their forecasts leading to a successful launch. Figures 3 and 4 show five-hour forecast AMU-WRF output of 10-m wind gust and forecast radar reflectivity as displayed in the AWIPS II at the 45 WS, valid at the beginning of the launch window (1200 UTC 5 December). The forecast radar reflectivity image (Fig. 4) suggested that the rain shower activity would be primarily south and west of the launch complex at the beginning of the launch window, which corresponded fairly well with the validating Melbourne, FL radar image in Figure 5. The combination of shower activity movement from northeast to southwest and little indication of forecast precipitation upwind of the launch complex suggested a favorable weather outcome for launch.

Figure 3.  AMU-WRF 5-hour forecast 10-m wind gusts as displayed in the 45 WS AWIPS II, valid 1200 UTC 5 December 2014 (7 am EST).

Figure 3. AMU-WRF 5-hour forecast 10-m wind gusts as displayed in the 45 WS AWIPS II, valid 1200 UTC 5 December 2014 (7 am EST).

Figure 4.  AMU-WRF 5-hour forecast radar reflectivity as displayed in the 45 WS AWIPS II, valid 1200 UTC 5 December 2014 (7 am EST).

Figure 4. AMU-WRF 5-hour forecast radar reflectivity as displayed in the 45 WS AWIPS II, valid 1200 UTC 5 December 2014 (7 am EST).

Figure 5.  Validating radar reflectivity at 1207 UTC 5 December 2014 (7:07 am EST), approximately corresponding to the time of the Orion launch aboard the Delta IV Heavy rocket.

Figure 5. Validating radar reflectivity at 1207 UTC 5 December 2014 (7:07 am EST), approximately corresponding to the time of the Orion launch aboard the Delta IV Heavy rocket.

3 thoughts on “Applied Meteorology Unit Provides Local Weather Model using SPoRT Datasets for Orion Flight Test

  1. Neat stuff! This appeared to do very well, but the actual forecast from the 45th was very very pessimistic. Did they just not have access to this data, or didn’t have full confidence?

  2. I was not involved in any real-time launch support, so I can’t comment on the 45 WS’ pessimism. There were some scattered showers around and winds were marginally strong. It could be that the forecast of violating weather launch commit criteria during a broad launch time window was pretty high due to a combination of these factors. Forecasters did have access to this model guidance.

  3. Thanks for following up… I would have been onboard with the 60% violation had this been a precisely timed Shuttle > ISS launch, but couldn’t see how they wouldn’t have found 5 minutes somewhere in that long window. Good to see the model worked regardless 😉

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