Artemis 1 Moon Rocket Launch Still On Nov. 16 After Nicole Storm
NASA’s Artemis 1 moon rocket survived the wrath of Tropical Storm Nicole in good shape and remains on track to launch next Wednesday (Nov. 16) as scheduled, agency officials said.
Nicole hit Florida’s Space Coast on Thursday (Nov. 10) as a Category 1 hurricane, ravaging the region with high winds and driving rain before weakening to a tropical storm. The Artemis 1 pile — a Space Launch System (SLS) mega rocket with an Orion capsule – took the blow of the stormendured in the open on Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
The SLS and his Orion spacecraft apparently have a strong jaw, as post-storm inspections revealed only minor damage that a timely launch shouldn’t prevent, NASA officials said.
“Right now, there’s nothing stopping us from going to the 16th,” Jim Free, associate administrator of the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said at a news conference Friday afternoon (Nov. 11). The launch is currently scheduled for November 16 at 1:04 a.m. EST (0604 GMT).
Nicole pried some sealant on Orion, sent some water into the arm that gives access to the capsule from the Artemis 1 launch tower, and tore one of the rain caps off the SLS engines, Free said.
The mission team is working its way through these and several other minor issues and expects to fix them in time for a launch on Wednesday, he added.
However, this does not mean that Artemis 1 is guaranteed to get off the ground that day; other boxes should also be checked.
For example, the mission team planned to power both the SLS and Orion on Friday, Free said, and then proceed with “program-specific technical testing” on mission hardware. Any hiccups in those procedures could potentially cause delays.
Artemis 1 is no stranger to delays. The mission was: should start at the end of Augustbut several technical issues pushed the launch back a month.
Then, in late September, the Artemis 1 team rolled off Pad 39B and back to KSC’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to shelter from Hurricane Ianthat hit the Space Coast hard.
Mission team members kept SLS and Orion in the VAB for a while and took the time to do some upgrade and maintenance work. She Artemis 1 rolled back to the pad on November 4thnot long before Nicole was cooking in the Atlantic.
Early forecasts suggested the storm would pose no major problem for SLS and Orion. But Nicole strengthened surprisingly quickly and then put the Space Coast in her sights.
On Tuesday (November 8) NASA pushed back the planned launch of Artemis 1 two days, from November 14 to November 16. But by then it was too late to roll Artemis 1 back to the VAB.
“We wouldn’t have the favorable wind we want when we roll,” Free said.
Team members didn’t think this decision seriously jeopardized Artemis 1; the models and predictions suggested that SLS would be able to handle the strain Nicole put on her. And that turned out to be the case, Free said.
SLS is certified to withstand peak wind gusts up to 85 mph (137 kph) at the 60 feet (18 meters) level “with structural margin”, NASA officials have said: (opens in new tab). The maximum wind speed at that altitude that Nicole threw at the rocket on Thursday was 82 mph (132 kph), Free said.
Winds were stronger at higher elevations on Thursday, but they did not exceed SLS’s design limits, he added.
Artemis 1 is NASA’s first mission Artemis program, which aims to establish a permanent human presence on and around the moon by the end of the decade. The flight will send an unmanned Orion to orbit and back, on a shakeout cruise designed to demonstrate the capsule and SLS are ready for manned missions.
The November 16 launch window opens at 1:04 AM EDT (0604 GMT) and lasts for two hours. If Artemis 1 can’t get off the ground that day, backup options will be available on Nov. 19 and 25, Free said.
Mike Wall is the author of “Outside (opens in new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book on the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).
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