Flight Rules and Triboelectrification (What the Heck is That?)

The skies look clear except for some high clouds,there’s no rain in the immediate forecast, so why might a rocket not launch?The answer is something called triboelectrification. While this isn’t a wordyou encounter every day, you might experience it if you walk across a drycarpet or brush up against a cat and then touch a metal surface: it’s static.
In the case of Ares I-X, flying through high-level clouds can generate“P-static” (P for precipitation), which can create a corona of static aroundthe rocket that interferes with radio signals sent by or to the rocket. Thiswould create problems when the rocket tries to transmit data down to the groundor if the Range Safety Officer at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station needed tosend a signal to the flight termination system. Until the 45th Space Wing andobserver aircraft indicate that the skies are clear, Ares I-X will wait themout. 

5 thoughts on “Flight Rules and Triboelectrification (What the Heck is That?)”

  1. I followed this all morning, cursing the captain who was unable to keep his freighter out of the range. I find myself applauding Weather’s fortitude to make the Right Call even when there has to be intense political, financial and boss-created pressure to allow the launch. Not the job I’d want at the Cape.

    I’ll miss tomorrow’s launch if it goes on schedule, as it’s currently set for “way too early PST”. If it gets delays I’ll follow it live.

    And if another “freighter” ends up in the range again, or any “fishing trawlers”, maybe it’s time to test the accuracy of the launch system 😛

  2. why is there a “short” 4 hour launch window for a suborbital flight? is it just about having the vehicle in a hold situation for too long? roadblocking the seashipping lanes too long?

  3. Could the static be discharged by a separate smaller rocket launched right before the Ares I-X is launched, or is the static too high in the atmosphere to be dissipated by a smaller rocket?

  4. It’s good to see NASA setting strict rules for themselves and adhering to those rules. It’s these sort of rules that minimize external events affecting probability of launch success. Launch success isn’t whether or not the vehicle gets off the pad, but whether the vehicle goes out of control and has to be detonated or not.

    By making sure the conditions are a good as possible for Launch increases the success probability of the Launch. I can’t imagine some of the frustration Launch Control must have, but it shows that in the face of any frustration they have the resolve to adhere to the rules.

    I can’t believe NASA doesn’t get the money it needs!

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