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Artemis I rocket takes shelter in assembly building from Hurricane Ian

Artemis I mission coverage presented with the support of

September 27, 2022

— With NASA's Artemis I rocket back inside its assembly building, the next chance to launch the moon-bound mission will depend on the aftermath of an approaching storm and the pace at which workers can complete critical hardware checks, agency officials said.

The towering Space Launch System (SLS) booster and its Orion spacecraft were rolled back from launch pad 39B to take shelter from Hurricane Ian as it nears Florida. Riding a crawler-transporter, the vehicle and its mobile launcher began the 4.2-mile (6.8-km) trip at 11:21 p.m. EDT on Monday (0321 GMT Sept. 27) and was secured inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center at approximately 9:15 a.m. EDT (1315 GMT) on Tuesday.

"The vehicle is safe in the VAB now," said Janet Petro, center director at Kennedy, on a call with reporters on Tuesday. "After the storm passes, our emergency operations center will declare a 'weather clear' and then they will do a ride around and do an initial assessment of the center."

Ian made landfall in Cuba as a Category 3 hurricane on Tuesday and is expected to approach Florida's west coast by Wednesday night.

Following the effects of the storm, NASA engineers will have work to complete before the SLS can be rolled back out to the pad for a third attempt at launching the Artemis I mission.

"There's no team that wants to launch more than than our team," said Jim Free, NASA's associate administrator for exploration systems. "But we won't let that drive us to making decisions that put the hardware at risk."

Among the pending tasks is the replacement of the SLS core stage flight termination system (FTS) batteries and then retesting the system to ensure that it can destroy the vehicle if needed should there be emergency threatening public safety during launch. NASA asked for and received a waiver from the U.S. Space Force, which has responsibility for the FTS, to extend the time when the batteries needed to be serviced. Now that work needs to completed before returning to the launch pad.

"With the platforms [in the VAB], it's easy to get to, but as soon as you go to open the door and go into the volume, that's where you can take some take some risks," said Free, describing the process of reaching the batteries through the core stage intertank. "I won't say it's simple, but the team understands how to do it."

Engineers also need to assess the condition of some 20 limited life items to ensure they are still safe to fly. Stacking the vehicle began in November 2020 and was completed almost a year later, on Oct. 21, 2021. By the time NASA can get the SLS back out on the pad and ready to launch, another year may have passed.

In addition to ensuring other batteries on the rocket are charged, Free said they intend to look at the storage of hypergolic propellants and soft goods in the Orion spacecraft's service module and systems related to the pressure transducers in the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) that will accelerate Orion toward the moon.

"It's a whole list of things," he said. "It'll be part of the planning that the team will decide what we need to do to to position ourselves best for future launch periods."

NASA has two upcoming periods when Artemis I could launch and still achieve its objectives by entering a lunar distant retrograde orbit before returning the capsule to Earth. The first set of dates begin on Oct. 17 and extend to Oct. 31 (with the exception of Oct. 24-26 and Oct. 28). The second opportunity opens Nov. 12 and continues through Nov. 27 (excluding Nov. 13, Nov. 20-21 and Nov. 26).

While he would not rule out an October launch, Free said November is more likely.

"If we are looking at early next week for the team to come back, we are talking Oct. 3 and our launch period opens back up on the 17th. It's just a challenge to think can we get in there, get the volumes open and say we can we can turn and get back out there for another launch attempt," he said. "We don't want to go out too fast and then get stuck in a situation where maybe we didn't get to all the limited life items we wanted to look at because we're trying to get back out there."


NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft are seen atop the mobile launcher as they are rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building from Launch Pad 39B, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

collectSPACE is grateful to film and TV company Haviland Digital for supporting our Artemis I coverage. Their team has produced and supported titles such as the award-winning "Last Man on the Moon," "Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo" and "Armstrong."

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