UAE off to the Moon: Why space mission launches get delayed?

Initially, the Rashid Rover was supposed to blast off on November 22, but the attempt had to be rescheduled four times

File photo
File photo

Nandini Sircar

Published: Wed 30 Nov 2022, 4:41 PM

Last updated: Thu 1 Dec 2022, 8:23 AM

[Editor's Note: This story was first published on Wednesday, November 30, ahead of the expected launch date on December 1. It has been revised to reflect the latest update.]

The launch date for the Emirates Lunar Mission (ELM) of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) has been delayed due to technical reasons, and will not take place, as previously announced, on Thursday, December 1, at 12.37pm UAE time.

The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in a tweet this morning said, “SpaceX announced a stand down from today's launch of the Falcon 9 rocket, carrying abroad the Rashid Rover, after inspections of the launch vehicle and data review. A new target launch date will be confirmed.”

It is the fourth delay of the highly anticipated launch after the rover was supposed to be launched on November 22, but it was moved thrice to November 28 , November 30 and then December 1.

“To allow SpaceX to perform additional pre-flight checks of the launch vehicle, we are no longer targeting Dec.1 for our HAKUTO-R M1 launch," said SpaceX in a tweet.

Backup launch dates are considered for multiple reasons, say experts. It could be weather anomalies or any mechanical issues associated with the rocket.

This will ensure that launch agencies have enough time to analyse the space mission carefully.

Explaining the reason behind launch delays, Sarath Raj, Project Director – Amity Dubai Satellite Ground Station and AmiSat, Amity University Dubai says, “It takes a tremendous amount of effort to launch a rocket. Numerous factors can cause launches to be delayed. The major causes of the launch delay include technical glitches in the vehicle and weather situations.”

It’s said even on a given day, there are specific periods of time or “launch windows”.

It’s during these launch windows when the rocket is permitted to launch. This can last from about half an hour to a few hours per day. But even those windows aren’t available daily.

There are also “launch periods,” which are durations of days when the Moon lines up with our planet so that’s its favourable for the mission.

Raj adds, “The flight meteorologist will analyse 14 meteorological data for the safe launch. The wind being analysed primarily; the launch cannot take place if the sustained wind speed at the 162-foot level of the launch pad is greater than 30 mph. Typically, upper-atmospheric winds blow at substantially higher speeds, which increases vertical wind shear. The most crucial phenomena to keep an eye on in connection to space launches are lightning and thunderstorms. If lightning is seen within 10 nautical miles of the launch site or the flight route, then the launch cannot take place for 30 minutes until the required circumstances can be met.

“Thunderstorm-related sky electricity is another criterion that needs to be measured; if a thunderstorm's edge that has produced lightning in the past 30 minutes is within 10 miles of the launch site then the launch will be aborted.”

Raj elucidates that clouds too pose a threat to the rocket's security.

He says, “A launch will be cancelled if a cloud layer is more than 4,500 feet thick, stretches into sub-freezing temperatures, and is within 10 nautical miles of cumulus clouds. In the event of any type of precipitation, a rocket cannot launch. Rocket launches frequently go off without a hitch in hot weather. However, temperatures below 8.88 degrees Celsius might cause a hazardous ice formation. Increases in cloud cover, rain, and humidity might also cause a launch to be aborted. Another common reason for cancelling rocket launches is the presence of large quantities of high energy particles in near-orbit space.”


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