Scientists from the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH) are supporting the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to develop rules for launching spacecraft during cloudy or stormy conditions. The JAXA currently implements NASA restrictions regarding threatening conditions to prevent a lightning strike to the spacecraft during launch. In 1969 NASA’s Apollo 12 rocket was struck during launch and without the quick thinking of the Apollo crew, the flight probably would have been aborted (see video here: NASA Apollo 12 Lightning Strike Video).
The Japanese weather patterns are considerably different from those in Florida and when the JAXA uses the NASA rules, many days are lost when rockets could possibly be launched from the JAXA facility. JAXA recently purchased an instrumented Cessna Citation jet to study the electrification of clouds over Japan. The UAH scientist will assist Japanese scientist as they fly the instrumented aircraft through cloud formations to determine the amount of electrification within the clouds. From these measurements, the JAXA will create a set of launch rules that help minimize lost launch opportunities.
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