Expected hurricane prompts Artemis moon launch delay

Expected hurricane prompts Artemis moon launch delay

With Tropical Storm (soon-to-be Hurricane) Nicole barreling toward Florida, NASA managers decided Tuesday to delay the planned launch of the Artemis 1 moon rocket from Monday to Wednesday, suspending flight preparations amid work to ready the spaceport — and the rocket — for high winds and rain. NASA released a statement saying that the new target date “will allow workers to tend to their families and homes and provide sufficient logistical space to get back in launch status after the storm.”

Assuming Nicole causes no major damage to ground systems or the 322-foot-tall Space Launch System rocket, which will remain exposed to the elements atop pad 39B, NASA hopes to start the countdown at 1: 54 a.m. EST Monday, setting the stage for blastoff on an unpiloted test flight at 1: 04 a.m. Wednesday.

The SLS moon rocket was hauled to launch pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center last week to ready it for launch November 14 on the unpiloted Artemis 1 moon mission. NASA managers decided to delay launch by two days due to a hurricane threatening.

NASA file photo

A backup launch opportunity is available on Nov. 19 at 1: 45 a.m. NASA will have two-hour launch windows for

in both cases.

Managers debated whether to move the massive rocket back to the Vehicle Assembly Building. However, after assessing the forecast, they determined that “the safest option” was to keep the Space Launch System rocket secured at the pad. “

The rocket is designed to withstand winds as high as 85 miles an hour at the 60-foot level with an additional, unspecified, safety margin on top of that.

“Current weather forecasts indicate that high winds are unlikely to pose a threat to the pad. However, they are not expected exceed the SLS design.” NASA stated. The rocket was designed to withstand heavy rains at launch pad. Spacecraft hatches have been protected to prevent water intrusion. The Space Launch System rocket, the most powerful ever built by NASA, will produce a staggering 8.8 million pounds thrust at liftoff using four main engines from the shuttle-era and two extended strap-on solid fuel boosters. The Artemis 1 mission aims to launch an unpiloted Orion crew spacecraft on a long orbit around the moon. It will end with a high-speed splashdown in the Pacific Ocean and a re-entry. 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. According to NASA’s inspector general the cost of the first four SLS rockets was $4.1 billion. However, it has been difficult to get the first one to the pad or into space. There have been multiple fuel leaks that delayed repeated tests and two failed launches.

The rocket was first rolled to the pad for an initial fueling test last March, more than 235 days ago, and has now made seven trips to and from the VAB while engineers dealt with a steady stream of frustrating glitches.

But NASA managers say the rocket should be ready to go this time around, thanks to lessons learned, repaired quick-disconnect fittings and revised fueling procedures intended to minimize or eliminate any additional hydrogen leakage.

But first, the SLS must get through one the last named storms this year’s hurricane seasons. A delay would almost certainly be triggered by any major wind or water damage.

William Harwood


Bill Harwood has been covering the U.S. space program full-time since 1984, first as Cape Canaveral bureau chief for United Press International and now as a consultant for CBS News. He covered 129 space shuttle missions, every interplanetary flight since Voyager 2’s flyby of Neptune and scores of commercial and military launches. Harwood, a dedicated amateur astronomer, is based at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and co-author of “Comm Check”: The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia. “

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