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The Artemis I mission, which is expected to send an uncrewed spacecraft on a test mission around the moon, is delayed once again as NASA’s Space Launch System grapples with Tropical Storm Nicole, which now it is expected that strengthen in a hurricane before it crashes into the east coast of Florida.
The space agency was targeting November 14 for the third launch attempt, but is now looking at November 16, “pending safe conditions for employees to return to work, as well as inspections after the storm has passed.” “NASA said in a statement Tuesday night. . . November 16 would offer a two-hour launch window that opens at 1:04 a.m. ET.
The rocket, often referred to as the SLS, is on its launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center, which is just north of where the center of the storm is expected to make landfall, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller noted. That will mean the area can expect some of the strongest winds the system will bring.
If it’s a 75 mph (120 kph) Category 1 hurricane, as forecast, gusts could range from 80 to 90 mph (130 to 145 kph), according to Miller. That could mean the rocket will be hit by winds higher than predetermined limits of what the rocket can withstand. Officials have said that SLS is designed to withstand gusts of up to 85 miles per hour (137 kph).
“In addition, the National Weather Service in Melbourne, Florida, has forecast maximum wind gusts to occur early Thursday morning of 86 miles per hour,” Miller added. “So yes, it is absolutely possible that wind gusts exceed that threshold.”
The latest report from the National Hurricane Center also gives a 15% chance that Cocoa Beach, which is about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of the launch site, will support sustained gale-force winds.
However, NASA officials said in a statement that “forecasts predict that the greatest risks on the platform are high winds that 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 statement continues.
Read more: The numbers that make the Artemisa I mission a monumental feat
The space agency decided to launch the SLS rocket to its launch pad last week, as the storm was still an unnamed system brewing off the East Coast. At the time, officials expected this storm to bring sustained winds of around 25 knots (29 miles per hour) with gusts up to 40 knots (46 miles per hour), which was considered within predetermined limits of what the rocket can withstand, according to comments from Mark Burger, a US launch weather officer. The 45th Space Force Weather Squadron, at a NASA press conference on November 3.
“The National Hurricane Center only has a 30% chance of it becoming a named storm,” Burger said last Thursday. “However, having said that, the models are very consistent in developing some kind of low pressure.”
But the storm became a named system on Monday, three days after the rocket was launched from the launch pad.
The strength of the storm is unusual, as Nicole is expected to be the first hurricane to hit the United States in November in nearly 40 years.
To prepare for the storm, NASA said its teams shut down the Orion spacecraft, which sits atop the SLS rocket, as well as the rocket’s side boosters and other components.
“Engineers also installed a hard cover over the launch abort system window, retracted and secured the crew access arm on the mobile launcher, and configured settings for the environmental control system on the spacecraft and elements of the rocket,” according to the statement. “Crews are also securing nearby hardware and conducting walkthroughs for possible debris in the area.”
The Kennedy Space Center announced on its Twitter food Tuesday that it is “in a HURICON III status and continues to prepare for the next storm by taking prudent precautions in all of our programs, activities, and workforce ahead of the storm.”
Preparations for HURICON III include “securing facilities, property and equipment” as well as deploying a rescue team, which is personnel who will be on site to assess any damage.
The SLS rocket had been in storage for weeks after problems with fuel leaks thwarted the first two launch attempts and then hurricane ian passed Florida, forcing the rocket to leave the launch pad in September.
NASA officials returned the rocket to the launch pad last week. with the goal of working toward a third launch attempt on November 14. It’s unclear how or if the storm could affect those plans.
The overall goal of NASA’s Artemis program is to return humans to the moon for the first time in half a century. And the Artemis I mission, expected to be the first of many, will lay the groundwork, testing the rocket and spacecraft and all their subsystems to ensure they are safe enough for astronauts to fly to the moon and back.
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