DISCUSSION: On Tuesday February 6, 2018, SpaceX launched the first Falcon Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Falcon Heavy is a modified form of the Falcon 9 with two additional Falcon 9 first stages as boosters to provide more power to the rocket. This enables the Falcon Heavy to be able to carry heavier loads and be able to go to the Moon in future missions. This launch is a test to see what the Falcon Heavy can do outside of tests as well as being a stepping stone in commercial spaceflights to the Moon and beyond. The payload for this first launch is Elon Musk’s, the founder of SpaceX and Tesla, personal Tesla roadster which will be in an orbit of the Sun that is similar in size to the planet Mars’ orbit. The rocket will be used to help meteorologists in the future as it is projected to take several satellites including the Formosat-7/COSMIC-2 which will study optical effects in the upper atmosphere in June of 2018.
Conditions for the launch at Cape Canaveral in Florida were good at the time of the launch window at 1830Z (1:30 pm EST) and remained the same through the launch which occurred at 2045Z (3:45 pm EST). In addition, the Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE), which is the maximum buoyancy of a parcel relative to the strength of upward motion, was very minimal and not able to be enough to generate any thunderstorms near the rocket launch. However, some clouds at about 2300 ft were observed but were not a major factor. Clouds generally are a concern due to historical lightning strikes involving rocket launches even when there are non-convective clouds aloft. An example of this is Apollo 12 back in 1969, when lightning struck the Saturn V rocket carrying the Apollo spacecraft a minute into the flight despite there being no convective clouds at the time. There was a southeasterly wind between 5 and 10 knots near the surface with westerly winds aloft which helped the Falcon Heavy pitch to its desired angle of attack as it streaked through the atmosphere and into orbit. Weather conditions remained the same as the two boosters of the Falcon Heavy safely landed back at Cape Canaveral a few minutes after launch.
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©2018 Meteorologist JP Kalb
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