Anticipated hurricane causes Artemis moon launch delay

Anticipated hurricane causes Artemis moon launch delay

With a tropical storm (soon to be a hurricane) Nicole barrels toward Florida, NASA managers decided Tuesday to delay scheduled launch of the Artemis 1 moon rocket from Monday to Wednesday, suspending flight preparations amid work to prepare the spaceport — and the rocket — for high winds and rain.

The new target date “will allow the workforce to meet the needs of their families and homes and provide sufficient logistical time to return to launch status after the storm,” NASA said in a statement.

Assuming Nicole does not cause significant damage to ground systems or at 322 feet Space Launch System rocketwhich will remain exposed to the elements at the top of pad 39B, NASA hopes to begin the countdown at 1:54 a.m. EST Monday, setting the stage for launch on an unmanned test flight at 1:04 a.m. Wednesday.

The SLS moon rocket was moved to pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center last week to prepare it for a Nov. 14 launch on the unmanned Artemis 1 moon mission.  With an expected hurricane on the way, NASA managers opted to secure the rocket to the pad and delay the launch two days.  / Credit: NASA file photo

The SLS moon rocket was moved to pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center last week to prepare it for a Nov. 14 launch on the unmanned Artemis 1 moon mission. With an expected hurricane on the way, NASA managers opted to secure the rocket to the pad and delay the launch two days. / Credit: NASA file photo

A backup launch opportunity is available on November 19 at 1:45 AM. In both cases, NASA will have two-hour launch windows to work with

Agency managers debated whether to return the massive rocket to the protection of the Vehicle Assembly Building, but after evaluating the forecast, decided that “the safest option for the launch material was to keep the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft secured to the pad. .”

The rocket is designed to withstand winds of up to 85 mph at the 60-foot level with an additional, unspecified margin of safety above that.

“Current forecasts predict that the biggest hazards to the pad are strong winds that are not expected to exceed the SLS design,” NASA said. “The rocket is designed to withstand heavy rainfall on the launch pad, and the spacecraft hatches are secured to prevent water ingress.”

The Space Launch System rocket is the most powerful ever built for NASA, a mammoth launcher that will generate an earth-shaking 8.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff from four shuttle-era main engines and two solid-fuel boosters with extended strap.

The goal of the Artemis 1 mission is to propel the unmanned Orion crew capsule into a long orbit around the moon, ending with a high-speed reentry and crash into the Pacific Ocean. If the flight goes well, NASA hopes to launch four astronauts around the Moon in 2024, followed by the first in a series of landings starting in 2025 or 2026.

The first four SLS rockets cost $4.1 billion each, according to NASA’s inspector general, and getting the first one to the pad and into space has been a challenge, with multiple fuel leaks and other problems delaying repeat tests and two recent launch attempts.

The rocket first rolled onto the pad for an initial fuel test last March, more than 235 days ago, and has now made seven trips to and from the VAB while engineers have faced a steady stream of frustrating malfunctions.

But NASA managers say the rocket should be ready to launch this time, thanks to lessons learned, repaired quick-disconnect components and revised fueling procedures designed to minimize or eliminate any additional hydrogen leak.

But first, the SLS must pass one of the last named storms of this hurricane season. Any major wind or water damage would almost certainly cause another delay.

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