Nasa decided on Tuesday evening to delay the launch date of its Artemis I mission as the space agency prepares its large moon rocket to face near-hurricane force winds on the approaching launch pad. of Tropical Storm Nicole.
Nasa had targeted Monday the 14th as the date to finally launch its long-awaited mission to the Moon, but will now move to a scheduled launch no earlier than 1:04 p.m. EST on Wednesday, November 16, with a backup date of November 19.
“Adjusting the target launch 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,” the company said. Nasa in a blog post on Tuesday evening.
U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasters now expect Tropical Storm Nicole to become a Category 1 hurricane by the time it makes landfall along the southeastern coast of Florida Wednesday.
Category 1 hurricanes can sustain winds of up to 95 miles per hour, according to Noaa.
Located south of Daytona Beach and north of Port Saint Lucie along Florida’s east coast, Kennedy Space Center, and specifically Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, where NASA’s moon rocket awaits on the launch pad, could be in Nicole’s line of fire. But NASA officials believe the Space Launch System (SLS), the massive rocket that will launch the Artemis I mission into orbit, can handle the looming storm, according to the space agency’s announcement.
“The greatest risks on the pad are high winds which should not exceed the SLS design,” reads the NASA blog post, noting that SLS is designed to withstand winds of up to 85 miles per hour. “The rocket is designed to withstand heavy rain on the launch pad and the spacecraft’s hatches have been secured to prevent water intrusion.”
What is now too late to do is bring the SLS rocket back to Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building, the massive rocket hangar where the Artemis I mission vehicle overcame the Hurricane Ian as it moved through Florida in late September. A flashback may take more than 12 hours as the 5.75 million pounds scoot from the launch pad on a massive tracked vehicle, so Nasa pledges to weather the storm with its multi-billion rocket dollars in the open.
Nasa ground crews are currently in Hurricane (Hurcon) III condition, according to Nasa, which involves securing equipment and preparing an “egress” team.
“A ‘ride-out’ team includes a set of personnel who will remain in a secure location in Kennedy throughout the storm to monitor centerwide conditions, including flight gear for the Artemis I mission. “, according to the blog. NASA shut down the rocket’s systems ahead of the impending storm and will need to verify the integrity of the rocket’s structure and systems before proceeding with a launch next week.
Artemis I, at each launch, will be the first orbital test flight of the SLS rocket and a major uncrewed flight test of the Orion spacecraft. SLS will launch Orion on a flight path to, around and beyond the Moon to test Orion’s flight systems, before the spacecraft returns to Earth to test its heat shield and parachutes by landing in the Pacific Ocean.
A Nov. 16 launch would mean a Dec. 11 splashdown for Artemis I, assuming all goes well with the post-launch mission.
And assuming the mission can indeed be launched anytime soon.
Nasa first tried to launch Artemis I in August, but was forced to scrap the launch due to an engine cooling problem. A second launch attempt in September was canceled after engineers failed to plug a leak in the liquid hydrogen refueling lines as they attempted to load the rocket with cryogenic fuel for launch.
Nasa conducted a refueling test Sept. 21 that gave space agency officials confidence that the technical challenges of an Artemis I launch had been overcome, but Hurricane Ian, and now Storm Tropical Nicole, introduced factors beyond NASA’s control.
Artemis I is supposed to be the first mission of a large new moon program for NASA. Artemis II is expected to fly Nasa astronauts around the Moon on a similar flight path as Artemis I in May 2024, while Artemis III will land Nasa astronauts on the lunar surface in 2025, the first time human boots touch the Moon from Apollo 17 missions in 1972.