Florida-bound tropical storm forces another delay for uncrewed Artemis moonshot

The impending arrival of Tropical Storm Nicole in Florida has prompted NASA to further delay its first crewed lunar mission in half a century, although mission officials say they are comfortable leaving the Artemis spacecraft from several billion dollars on its coastal launching pad.

The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion capsule are designed to withstand winds of up to 85 mph, officials say, above those currently forecast for the rare end-of-season Atlantic cyclone that was expected to make landfall. early Thursday on the east coast of Florida south of the Kennedy Space Center.

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NASA has pushed back Monday’s planned launch by two days to Wednesday, Nov. 16, and is nervously watching Nicole’s path, which was expected to reach or approach hurricane strength, after strengthening at sea during the day Wednesday. .

The agency placed a “ride-out” team at the space center to monitor the spacecraft through the storm, which was already bringing 45 mph gusts Wednesday morning, according to local journalists.

“Based on forecast weather conditions and pre-storm backup options, the agency determined that the safest option for the launch hardware was to keep the rocket and Orion capsule secure on the pad,” said the agency said in a blog update.

“Current forecasts predict that the greatest risks to the platform are high winds which are not expected to exceed the SLS design. 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 risk of a direct strike at the Nicole Space Center appeared to recede on Wednesday as the National Hurricane Center in Miami pushed the storm’s predicted track further south. But there remained a chance that hurricane-force winds in excess of 74 mph would reach Cape Canaveral.

The delay is the latest to affect the uncrewed Artemis I flight, which will send a human capsule around the moon and back for the first time since the cancellation of the Apollo program of lunar landings 50 years ago.

Previous launch attempts in August and September were aborted after engineers discovered an engine cooling problem and then were unable to repair an unrelated fuel leak. Hopes for an early October launch were dashed when the threat of Hurricane Ian forced the space agency to return the giant rocket to the safety of its hangar.

If Artemis 1 is ultimately successful, astronauts will be on board an interim test flight along the same route 40,000 miles past the moon and back, a trek scheduled for 2024. The first moon landing since Apollo 17 in December 1972 would follow about a year later, with NASA declaring that it would carry the first woman to walk on the lunar surface.

The new scheduled launch time is Artemis I is 1:04 a.m. on Nov. 16, with a two-hour window before a 25-day flight and splashdown on Friday, Dec. 11. A backup launch opportunity is available on November 19.

“Teams are ready to return to work as soon as weather permits,” the NASA statement said.

“Once back on site, technicians will conduct field visits and inspections to assess the condition of the rocket and spacecraft as soon as possible.”

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