Lightning strikes at Artemis launch pad cleared; weather forecast improves

Saturday afternoon brought thunderstorms over Kennedy Space Center including several lightning strikes at the launch pad from where the Artemis I mission is scheduled to lift off on Monday.

NASA teams evaluating the effects of three strikes at Launch Pad 39-B’s lightning towers overnight deemed everything was fine to proceed with the countdown expected around midnight Monday ahead of the beginning of the two-hour launch window that opens at 8:33 a.m.

“We did yesterday, you may have seen we had some — we call them kind of spectacular, amazing events as we do every day here in Florida,” said Jeff Spaulding, Artemis I senior NASA test director during a Sunday news conference. “We did have some strikes that we recorded on our lightning tower pad working as it normally should. And we did have those. We’ve been evaluating those through yesterday and last night, and everything today looks very good from a vehicle perspective.”

He said the five strikes occurred at 1:14 and 1:16 p.m. NASA said on Saturday the bolts hit Tower 1 and Tower 2 of the three-tower protection system that surrounds the rocket. Analysis has shown no residual effects to the ground equipment.

“We haven’t had to do any significant retest, we have a threshold that we look at to see what the magnitude of these strikes are. And we did not meet that criteria to have to do intensive or invasive type retest,” he said. “We did the analysis with our system experts as far as all the data and and what those lightning events were so bottom line is we look really good. No issues no concerns, or constraints from the lightning events.”

More thunderstorms could be on tap for Cape Canaveral on Sunday, but as far as launch weather Monday morning goes, things are looking better.

Space Launch Delta 45′s weather squadron has upped its forecast so that there’s only a 20% chance of weather constraints affecting the launch attempt at the opening of the window.

“It’s a pretty similar outlook from what I had yesterday but I’m kind of slicing and dicing it for you,” said SLD 45 weather officer Melody Lovin. “Basically the beginning of the launch window or just after 8:30 in the morning has an 80% chance of favorable weather. As we creep forward in time through our launch window, we just have a better chance of some of those offshore showers and maybe a thunderstorm or two creeping closer to the coastline, and also because across the spaceport we’re likely to have some billowing clouds form, as we get into a 10 o’clock and 11 o’clock timeframe in the late morning hours.”

Spaulding said he is optimistic about everything lining up for the 8:33 a.m. liftoff attempt.

“I would say my thoughts are that we look great for tomorrow,” he said. “Love the fact that the weather looks really like it’s going to cooperate at the beginning of the window and our job is to get to the beginning of the window and that’s what I’m going to try to get the team to do.”