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Rocket launches are supremely powerful events. Loud, rumbling, bone-shaking noise can be felt even miles away from the launch site. There is truly nothing that compares to witnessing the power of a rocket in person. Unfortunately, there are only a few sites around the world where one can watch a launch. To make things even harder, some launches end up being scrubbed the day-of due to factors such as inclement weather or mechanical problems. Wouldn’t it be nice to know how likely it is that a launch is going to happen when it is supposed to?
WeatherToLaunch.com was created to help answer this question. Whether you are you planning a trip to Cape Kennedy to see a launch in person or just wondering if you should head home to watch the launch on your big screen, you can use WeatherToLaunch to make an informed decision. WeatherToLaunch is the only site that combines information about upcoming rocket launches, weather forecasts, and technical launch criteria to show you key launch indicators and their likelihood of contributing to a scrubbed launch.
First, upcoming launches are collected using the “Launch Library”, a free to use API and repository of rocket launch information created for the community by Pete Riesett and Benjamin Higginbotham in 2011. This library contains not just time and location of launches but also interesting mission information, vehicle information and lots of nice-to have features.
Next, the location and time of upcoming launches are fed into the Aeris Weather forecasting api, collecting forecasted weather information such as wind speed, thunderstorm chance, and cloud coverage. The Aeris API provides forecasts up to 14 days out, containing a wealth of information. Unfortunately, the Aeris product is not free, WeatherToLaunch must maintain an API subscription to remain active.
Finally, the weather forecast information is compared to Key Launch Indicators (KLI) discovered by the WeatherToLaunch team. The goal of the KLI are to represent the most important factors contributing to a successful launch. Contributing sources include NASA publications concerning Launch Commit Criteria (https://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/news/releases/2003/release-20030128.html and https://www.nasa.gov/pdf/649911main_051612_falcon9_weather_criteria.pdf). During the research phase, it became clear that different launch vehicles have different launch criteria due to unique vehicle attributes and even launch sites. For example, the Falcon 9 rocket cannot be launched in over 30 knots of wind where as the atlas V can be launched up to 33 knots. Additionally, each country’s space agency seems to have their own requirements for launch. As a proof of concept, WeatherToLaunch applies the Falcon 9 criteria to every launch. This is an excellent opportunity for improvement in the future.
Once the KLI have been determined, the result is stored in the WeatherToLaunch datastore on Google’s Firebase platform. Firebase provides an array of development tools which helped get the project online quickly. Firebase Functions, serverless functions written in Typescript and running on Node.Js, were used to collect information from the various APIs, combine the data and serve it to the user interface. These functions are available on the project Github for inspection. The end result of the WeatherToLaunch process is an API endpoint available at https://us-central1-whatsgoingup-spaceapschallenge.cloudfunctions.net/LoadLaunches. This endpoint serves JSON of all the upcoming launches (matching the Launch Library schema) as well as the KLI in a node named “WGUPred” at the top level of each launch. The WGUPred node combines launch date and location along with an array of predictors.
Each launch predictor provides the name (eg. “Wind Speed (KTS)”), the forecasted value (“Value”), the threshold for a launch (“Threshold”) and a Boolean of “HighValue” where a true represents a high threshold (value cannot go over the threshold) and a false represents a low threshold (value cannot go below the threshold). From here, our Key Launch Indicator gauges are born and the only remaining task is to create a UI so that users can easily use this information.
WeatherToLaunch includes two user interfaces: WeatherToLaunch.com and the WeatherToLaunch Android app. Both interfaces utilize the “GetLaunchData” API endpoint including information about rocket launches as well as the forecasted Key Launch Indicators (KLI).
In addition to the website, the “Weather to Launch” app is going to offer a mobile friendly interface to provide users with information about upcoming rocket launches on the go! The app will show the same detailed information such as weather conditions, launch windows, launch locations, and information about the rockets’ mission. The application will also provide notifications of upcoming launches so the user never misses a launch! Currently we are building the Android application; in the future we wish to expand this into IOS users as well. The WeatherToLaunch app documentation is available on the app github.
WeatherToLaunch was developed over two days during the Space Apps Hackathon by a small team. As such, many original goals were not incorporated into the product as it stands. This section details possible improvements for the WeatherToLaunch platform and the technical challenges that must be overcome for each of them.
SpaceApps is a NASA incubator innovation program.