SPACEFLIGHT METEOROLOGY GROUP SUPPORT OF COLUMBIA INVESTIGATION
Update -- April 2, 2003
The NWS Spaceflight Meteorology Group (SMG) continues to provide expert assistance
to NASA following the tragic break up of the space shuttle Columbia on February 1,
On March 28, 2003, SMG briefed the Columbia Accident Investiigation Board (CAIB) on
NEXRAD WSR-88D data over Texas and Louisiana. This briefing included an
introduction to the WSR-88D design and interpretation, and demonstrations of
radar loops showing the suspended debris field and its motion following the accident.
SMG is supporting four NASA working groups -- the Debris Analysis Team, the
Integrated Entry Environment Team, the Ascent Performance and Reconstruction Team,
and the Upper Atmospheric Science Team. The Debris Analysis Team is calculating
trajectories of shuttle debris based on video and atmospheric data. This is helping
narrow the search areas for debris, particularly in the southwestern U.S. The
Integrated Entry Environment Team is focusing on the response of the vehicle to the
upper atmosphere that Columbia encountered during re-entry. The Ascent Performance
and Reconstruction Team is studying the ascent of the Columbia on January 16th. The
Upper Atmospheric Science Team is evaluating possible natural and induced atmospheric
discharges, solar events, and meteorites. These teams report to the NASA Accident
Investigation Team (NAIT) which in turn reports to the external (non-NASA)
Columbia Accident Investigation Board headed by Admiral Gehman.
Weather radar data analyzed by the NWS Radar Operations Center (ROC), the National
Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL), and the Spaceflight Meteorology Group provided an
initial view of potential debris locations to NASA investigation teams. The
outstanding data gathering effort by NWS Southern Region Headquarters and Weather
Forecast Offices throughout the country allowed a detailed analysis of the weather
radar data to be in the hands of the Debris Collection Team within a week of the
SMG initiated coordination on a multi-agency effort to reconstruct a global analysis
of the atmosphere that Columbia flew through on its ill-fated descent.
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Data
Assimilation Office (DAO) is providing a gridded analysis of the entry atmosphere up to 250,000 feet. Above this alttitude, the Marshall Space
Flight Center (MSFC) Global
Reference Atmosphere Model, 1999 is supplementing the analysis. SMG is analyzing and customizing the modeled atmosphere for NASA JSC
customers. In addition, SMG is using the National Center for Environmental
Prediction (NCEP) Global Data Analysis System (GDAS) to provide additional
information for reconstructing the atmosphere the shuttle encountered.
Experimental lightning data provided by Vaisala Inc., and GOES satellite imagery
provided by the University of Wisconsin Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC)
and NESDIS, were used to document the environment during the initial portion of the
re-entry over the Pacific Ocean.
In addition to the groups mentioned earlier, SMG is participating in meteorological
reconstruction efforts with several entities, including the NASA Kennedy Space Center
weather office, the USAF 45th Weather Squadron, and the NASA Marshall Space Flight
Center Environments Group. SMG has received significant and timely help in acquiring
data from NWS Southern Region Headquarters, NWS WFOs Shreveport, Fort Worth, and
Lake Charles, the NWS ROC, the NOAA NSSL, NOAA Forecast Systems Lab (FSL), NOAA
National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), and NOAA NESDIS.
SMG's top priority will continue to be supporting NASA and the CAIB in reviewing and
understanding meteorological data associated with the Columbia disaster. In addition,
SMG will be an active participant in the Space Shuttle Program's "Return to Flight"
evaluations of weather flight rules and other factors.