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How the stars must align every time we send something to outer space3 min read

July 13, 2021 3 min read


How the stars must align every time we send something to outer space3 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Surely, there’s something special about outer space. Looking up at the stars is something humans have done for centuries, and many a time for different purposes. Nowadays, with the advancement we’re making in space travel, we often find ourselves looking up at the sky to understand and move this science forward. Confused?

Changes in the earth’s atmosphere affect what happens to space travel. For example, if there’s bad weather, you know that things are going to be tough out there. Here’s how space scientists make important decisions based off weather patterns before a launch or landing.

The Karman Line

The Karman Line. Photo: Pixels

The Karman line is an imaginary line that separates the earth’s atmosphere from outer space. It lies about 100 kilometres (65 miles) above Earth’s surface. When rockets go to outer space, they have to pass this imaginary line before officially reaching space. But it’s not always a rosy path.

Launch and Land

When capsules are set to launch or land, the organization that is launching them always checks the weather forecast and the current situation of the weather minutes before the launch. If the weather is bad, the launch is “scrubbed”, i.e space terminology for postponed. The space company will schedule it for a different day.

For example, whenever SpaceX launches its Crew Dragon capsule, whether it is with people or cargo, they always check the weather. In case of an abort, SpaceX needs to make sure its capsule is nice and safe. The weather could impact the trajectory of the capsule and could even destroy the cargo. Sometimes, this could also be fatal if there are people inside!

The same is true when a capsule is waiting to land. The crew always hope to recover it on landing, and so they are given exact coordinates (longitude and latitude) to where the capsule is slated to touch ground. This is in the hope that things go well, which is why it’s again important to check the weather. But the capsule’s trajectory can be affected as it heads for the earth’s surface, and can be damaged or lost. In the first case, it needs to be recovered immediately, otherwise it will sink to the ocean floor.

The recovery teams generally have a hard time reaching the capsule at the right time, which could cause a loss of critical minutes. SpaceX has had several launches delayed, including all three of its crewed Dragon missions, because of weather.

Interstellar connect

Weather can also block great views of space spectacles. Clouds love to block our views of a solar eclipse or an appearance of Venus. Even if you are looking out of a telescope, it is not fun having clouds blocking your views.

Weather seems to disagree with space a lot, but when the stars align and the clouds move out, the capsule and rocket fly past the Karman line.