Wind Forecast for Rocket and Balloon launches at Esrange Space Center (WiFRAB)


Credit: Esrange Space Center

Wind Forecast for Rocket and Balloon launches at Esrange Space Center (WiFRAB) project is focused on the improvement of the Weather Research and Forecast (WRF), a community model used for a wide diversity of purposes, to achieve accurate predictions of the wind activity at Esrange Space Center in Kiruna, Sweden. The facility is an active launch base from where sounding balloons and rockets are sent to the upper levels of the atmosphere for the performance of different kinds of studies on its dynamics.
Atmospheric conditions in the area are the main constraint for the execution of the scheduled launches, and in particular the wind activity, which is critical specially in the case of balloons. Therefore, counting on a reliable forecasting model is crucial to optimize the functioning of the center by minimizing the expenses of the programmed launches, whose costs increase with unexpected delays or cancelations.
Esrange Space Center, which is aimed to become a reference European space port, is placed 200 km above the arctic circle, in a remote location where the weather forecasting shows some particular difficulties due to the limited availability of local observational data. The lack of measurements determines a poor knowledge of the atmospheric dynamics in the region, resulting in an underperformance of the usual models applied.
WiFRAB project pursues the improvement of the WRF model by performing a series of weather “hindcasts”, that is to say, the model will be run for several events in the past from which observational data are available. This will allow to check how well the results from the model match with the real conditions registered. Then, the configuration of the model will be changed in order to refine its simulations by adding the parameters and factors which are specifically significant in the area of Esrange, such as snow related to the vegetation, topography, etcetera, and finally, forecast tests will be run to confirm the better accuracy of the resulting configuration.
The development of this project is expected to provide benefits in both the business and the academic sphere. On one hand, the improved forecasting capability of WiFRAB will help to avoid the increase of operations costs caused by delayed launches. The possibility to establish better-adjusted (smaller) launch windows will be possible by using the model, and hence improving the efficiency of the facility, while the capability of predicting a narrower landing area for the vehicles after their return, will make easier and cheaper the recovery of the on-board probes and rockets engines.
For the Luleå University of Technology, WiFRAB will mean a remarkable contribution to the modelling of atmospheric dynamics in the Arctic region in different scales, and the development of a high- resolution numerical model which will improve the reliability of weather forecasts for northern Sweden.
In addition, the studies to be carried out will mean a deepening in the comprehension of the physical mechanisms acting within the planetary boundary layer of the atmosphere in this area.