|November 8, 2022
— NASA has postponed the start of its Artemis I moon mission ahead of an approaching storm that could impact its Florida launch site.
Mission managers on Tuesday (Nov. 8) decided to retarget the liftoff of its Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft for Wednesday, Nov. 16, two days later than planned, as a precaution due to Tropical Storm Nicole. According to the National Weather Service, Nicole is expected to become a hurricane before making landfall along Florida's east coast on Wednesday evening (Nov. 9).
According to a statement released by the space agency, the delay is intended to allow NASA's workforce to tend to their families and homes, as well as provide the logistical time needed for the Kennedy Space Center to return to launch status following the storm. NASA has a backup opportunity on Saturday, Nov. 19, should more time be needed to conduct inspections and ensure there are safe conditions for employees to return to work.
Based on the expected weather conditions and the options they had to roll back the SLS to its assembly building ahead of the storm, the Artemis I mission team determined Sunday evening that the safest option for the vehicle was to keep it secured at the launchpad. The 322-foot-tall (98-m) rocket is designed to withstand 85 mph (74.4 knot) winds at the 60-foot (18-m) level with structural margin. The current forecast predicts the greatest risks at the pad are high winds that are not expected to exceed the SLS's tolerances.
The SLS is designed to withstand heavy rains at the launchpad and the hatches on the Orion spacecraft have been secured to prevent water intrusion.
Teams have also powered down the Orion, SLS core stage, interim cryogenic propulsion stage and solid rocket boosters. Engineers installed a hard cover over the launch abort system window, retracted and secured the crew access arm on the mobile launcher and configured the settings for the environmental control system on the spacecraft and rocket elements.
Teams are also securing nearby hardware and performing walkdowns to look for potential debris in the area.
As of Tuesday evening, Kennedy Space Center was in a HURCON (Hurricane Condition) III status, which included securing facilities, property and equipment at the center, as well as briefing and deploying a "ride-out" team. As part of NASA's hurricane preparedness protocol, the ride-out team are personnel who will remain in a safe location on site at Kennedy throughout the storm to monitor centerwide conditions, including the flight hardware for the Artemis I mission.
Kennedy will release non-essential personnel when it reaches the HURCON II status as the agency continues to prioritize its employees in the center's area.
The launch team expects to resume work as soon as the weather and center's status allows. Once back on site, technicians will perform inspections at the pad to assess the status of the rocket and spacecraft as soon as practicable.
Nicole is the second storm to affect the Artemis I mission, which, once launched, will send the uncrewed Orion on a test flight around the moon. In September, NASA rolled back the SLS to Kennedy's Vehicle Assembly Building ahead of the approaching Hurricane Ian. The center did not incur damage from the storm and the vehicle was returned to Complex 39B on Nov. 4.
A launch during the two-hour window that opens at 1:04 a.m. EST (0604 GMT) on Nov. 16 would result in a splashdown 25 days later on Friday, Dec. 11.
|NASA's Artemis I Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with its Orion spacecraft seen atop Launch Pad 39B on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (NASA/Joel Kowsky) Hurricane-force winds are predicted for NASA's Kennedy Space Center as Nicole makes landfall along the eastern coast of Florida on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022. (National Weather Service)