NASA inspects Artemis I rocket after Hurricane Nicole

NASA inspects Artemis I rocket after Hurricane Nicole

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The Artemis I moon rocket is still standing after the battle with Hurricane Nicole, which made landfall as a Category 1 storm about 70 miles south of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at night. The $4.1 billion rocket rode out of the storm while sitting unprotected on its launch pad.

It’s not yet clear how the hurricane affected the rocket, dubbed the Space Launch System, or the Orion spacecraft currently atop it. but the first inspections have begun.

“Our team is conducting the first visual checks of the rocket, spacecraft and ground system equipment with the cameras on the launch pad. Camera inspections show very minor damage such as loose sealant and cracks in weather coatings. The team will soon conduct additional on-site inspections of the vehicle ”, said a Thursday afternoon pronunciation from Jim Free, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate.

“Teams monitored SLS and Orion remotely during the storm and successfully delivered purges and other critical support,” the statement reads.

In the lead up to Hurricane Nicole’s landfall, gusts of wind and possible debris were a concern for the Artemis I mission team. The rocket is designed to withstand winds of 85 miles per hour (74.4 knots) by some margin, NASA officials noted in a Tuesday. pronunciation.

“While wind sensors on the launch pad detected peak gusts of up to 82 miles per hour (71 knots) at the 60-foot level, this is within the missile’s capability. We expect to clear the vehicle for those conditions soon,” Free said.

But Thursday evening, a NASA spokesperson confirmed to CNN that sensors at the 142-meter level of the lightning towers indicated that the wind peak at that location was reaching 100 miles per hour (87 knots).

Thursday at 5:15 a.m. ET, sensors on one of the lightning towers surrounding the rocket also recorded wind speeds of 75 miles per hour (65 knots), with gusts of up to 100 miles per hour (87 knots). Data from some sensors, owned by NASA and the US Space Force, is available on the National Weather Service’s website.

That website says the sensor that produces that data is 2 meters off the ground. However, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s forecasting office in Melbourne, Florida, told CNN that this is not true. The actual height of the sensor is 70 meters, which should provide accurate readings for the types of wind the 322-meter (98-meter) rocket endured.

NASA did not respond to requests for comment on that detail on Thursday.

The space agency decided last week to roll the SLS rocket to its launch pad because the storm had calmed down an undisclosed system is brewing off the east coast. At the time, officials had expected the storm to bring sustained winds of about 29 miles per hour (25 knots) with gusts up to 46 miles per hour (40 knots). Those were considered to be well within predetermined limits of what the missile can withstand, according to comments from Mark Burger, a US launch defense officer. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron, at a NASA press conference on Nov. 3.

“The National Hurricane Center has only a 30% chance of it becoming a named storm,” Burger said at the news conference. “But that said, the models are very consistent in developing a kind of low pressure.”

But the storm grew into a named system on Monday, three days after the rocket rolled out to the launch pad.

“We have taken the decision to keep Orion and SLS on the launch pad very seriously, reviewed the data ahead and made the best possible decision with great uncertainty in forecasting weather four days out,” the statement said on Thursday. from Free. “With the unexpected change in forecast, returning to the Vehicle Assembly Building was considered too risky in high winds, and the team decided the launch pad was the safest place for the rocket to weather the storm.”

Transporting the mega-moon rocket between the launch pad and the Vehicle Assembly Building is no small feat. It usually takes about three days of preparation for the maneuver to take place, and there are a limited number of rollbacks the mission team can perform. The slow 6.4-kilometer ride aboard a giant Apollo-era NASA crawler takes 10 to 12 hours under favorable conditions. If the rocket had to be rolled back as a storm approached, it could only handle sustained winds less than 46 miles per hour (40 knots).

The storm’s strength was unusual, with Nicole becoming the first hurricane to hit the United States in November in nearly 40 years.

In preparation for the storm, NASA said in a statement on Tuesday that its teams have shut down the Orion spacecraft, the rocket’s side boosters and other components. Engineers also installed a hard cover to protect the missile launch abort system window and took other steps to prepare the ground systems.

The SLS rocket had been put away for weeks after fuel leak problems thwarted the first two launch attempts, and then Hurricane Ian rolled on Florida, forcing the rocket to leave the launch pad in September.

NASA officials brought the rocket back to the launch pad last week with the goal of working on a third launch attempt on Nov. 14, but that schedule shifted to Nov. 16 when NASA acknowledged the impending threat of Hurricane Nicole on Tuesday. It’s not clear if the launch date will be moved again, as NASA is looking for damage.

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 and test the rocket and spacecraft and all of their subsystems to make sure they’re safe enough for astronauts to fly to the moon and back.

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