With tropical storm (soon hurricane)racing toward Florida, NASA officials decided on Tuesday to delay the Monday through Wednesday, suspending flight preparations amid construction 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 ample logistical time to return to launch status after the storm,” NASA said in a statement.
Assuming Nicole does no major damage to ground systems or the height of 322ftwhich will remain exposed to the elements atop Pad 39B, NASA hopes to begin the countdown at 1:54 a.m. EST Monday, setting the stage for liftoff on an unmanned test flight at 1:04 a.m. Wednesday.
A backup launch opportunity is available Nov. 19 at 1:45 a.m. Either way, NASA will have two-hour launch windows to work with.
Agency officials debated whether to bring the huge rocket back to the protection of the Vehicle Assembly Building, but after evaluating the forecasts, they decided that “the safest option for the material was to keep the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft secure to the pad.”
The rocket is designed to withstand winds as high as 85 miles per hour at the 60 foot level with an additional, unspecified margin of safety on top of that.
“Current forecasts predict that the greatest hazards on the pad are high winds that are not expected to exceed the SLS design,” NASA said. “The rocket is designed to withstand heavy rain on the launch pad and the spacecraft’s hatches have been secured to prevent water intrusion.”
The Space Launch System rocket is the most powerful ever built for NASA, a gigantic launch vehicle that will generate 8.8 million pounds of liftoff thrust from four shuttle-era main engines and two fuel-burning boosters solid with elongated strap.
The goal of the Artemis 1 mission is to propel an unmanned Orion crew capsule on a long trajectory around the moon, ending with a high-speed re-entry and plunge 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 to the pad and into space was a challenge, with multiple fuel leaks and other issues delaying repeated testing and two recent launch attempts.
The rocket was first rolled onto the pad for an initial refueling test last March, more than 235 days ago, and has now made seven trips to and from VAB while engineers faced a stream constant frustrating glitches.
But NASA officials say the rocket should be ready to go this time around, thanks to lessons learned, repaired quick-disconnect fittings and revised refueling procedures meant to minimize or eliminate any extras..
But first, the SLS must weather one of the last named storms of this year’s hurricane season. Any major wind or water damage would almost certainly trigger another delay.
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