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Tonight (Aug 12 2013) is the annual peak of the Perseid meteor shower.

Since meteors are chunks of rock flying through the atmosphere at crazy high speeds, I'm wondering if there are any considerations for the launching of space flights on and around this time - it is generally considered detrimental to have your craft pierced by a flying rock.

Do space agencies take heightened meteor activity around this time into account when planning launches? If so, how?

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Yes, NASA definitely takes meteor showers seriously and has delayed one Space Shuttle mission due to colliding dates with predicted peaks of meteoritic activity, and was somewhat concerned about the future launch window for another mission, that later launched just a day shy of a peak of a meteor shower:

  • In August 1993, the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery mission STS-51 was additionally delayed due to the same Perseid meteor shower peak, after the launch being scrubbed two times due to technical problems - on July 17th due to failed electrical switch, and on July 24th due to a fault in the steering system of the right solid rocket booster. The next launch was postponed to August 12th due to threat of Perseids with peak activity on August 11th. News articles: The Times, The Free Lance Star, The Hour.

  • In 2009, Space Shuttle Atlantis mission STS-129 was slotted just a day before the annual Leonids meteor shower that peaked on November 17th, that was followed in a less than a month's time by the Geminids meteor shower (peaked on December 13-14th. Atlantis mission STS-129 to the ISS was launched on November 16th, 2009. According to Space.com news article, this was NASA's reasoning:

    The showers will produce hundreds of meteoroids per hour. NASA wouldn't launch a shuttle into a cosmic shooting gallery, so managers likely would forego any launch opportunity at the peak of either shower.

It should also be noted that chances of colliding with a meteor are astronomically slim even during heightened meteoritic activity. Meteors hit the Earth's atmosphere (of even hit the surface, and if they survive this collision we call the rocks meteorites) all the time, albeit at most times less frequently than during annual meteor shower peaks. Meteor showers also happen unpredictably, e.g. the June Boötids that are hard to predict their peak and frequency, usually in the week between June and July each year.

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    $\begingroup$ I do apologize for posting nearly identical answer to what @Chris has posted before me, but since I already started writing it, oh well, you have two answers. :P $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Aug 13 '13 at 3:11
  • $\begingroup$ Astronomically slim, yes, but still significantly higher than when the Perseids aren't dropping by. It's one of those "waiting a couple hours does no harm, so why take the risk?" things. $\endgroup$ – Shadur Aug 13 '13 at 9:05
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This article mentions the Leonids meteor shower as a worry for a Shuttle launch (the mission ended up launching near the beginning of the window, well before the Leonids peak). Toward the end, though, the article says

NASA in August 1993 delayed a Discovery launch attempt by a day to avoid the peak of an extra active Perseid meteor shower.

The archive entry for that mission, STS-51, does mention the delay, but does not offer much more detail.

So, yes, meteor showers affect launches. How often this happens, I don't know, but it seems to be an easy way to mitigate a potentially great risk.

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