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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, 2003.

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 accident.

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.



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Page last modified: 1 May 2003
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