NASA’s Artemis I rocket could face damaging winds as storm approaches
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The Artemis I mission, which is expected to send an unmanned spacecraft on a test mission around the moon, has been delayed again as NASA’s Space Launch System faces Tropical Storm Nicole, which is now expected to explode. amplify into a hurricane before it reaches the east coast of Florida.
The space agency had targeted the third launch attempt on Nov. 14, but is now looking forward to Nov. 16, “pending safe conditions for workers to return to work, as well as inspections after the storm passes,” NASA said on Tuesday evening. a statement. . November 16 was set to offer a two-hour launch window set at 1:04 a.m. ET. opens
The rocket, often referred to as SLS, is on its launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center, which is just north of where the storm’s center is expected to make landfall, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller noted. That means the area can expect some of the strongest winds the system will bring.
If it’s a Category 1 hurricane at 120 kilometers per hour, as predicted, wind gusts could range from 130 to 145 kilometers per hour, Miller said. That could mean that the missile is hit by winds that are higher than the predetermined limits of what the missile can withstand. Officials have said SLS is designed to withstand gusts of wind up to 85 miles per hour (137 kph).
“Furthermore, the National Weather Service in Melbourne, Florida, has forecast maximum gusts of 86 miles per hour on Thursday morning,” Miller added. “So yes, it is absolutely possible for wind gusts to exceed that threshold.”
The latest report from the National Hurricane Center also gives a 15% chance that Cocoa Beach, located about 20 miles south of the launch site, will weather sustained hurricane-force winds.
However, NASA said in its statement, “forecasts predict the greatest risks on the trail 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 are secured to prevent water ingress,” the statement continues.
The space agency decided to roll the SLS rocket to its launch pad last week, as the storm was calm an undisclosed system is brewing off the east coast. At the time, officials had expected this storm to bring sustained winds of about 25 knots (29 miles per hour) with gusts up to 40 knots (46 miles per hour), which is well within predetermined limits of what the missile can withstand, according to comments from Mark Burger, a launch defense officer with the US 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 on Thursday. “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.
The storm’s strength 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 have shut down the Orion spacecraft, which sits atop the SLS rocket, as well as the rocket’s side amplifiers and other components.
“Engineers also installed a hard hood 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,” the statement said. “Teams are also securing nearby hardware and conducting walkdowns for possible debris in the area.”
Kennedy Space Center announced on his Twitter feed Tuesday that it is “in HURICON III status and continues to prepare for the coming storm by taking cautious precautions for all of our programs, operations and personnel ahead of the storm.”
Preparations for the HURICON III include “securing facilities, property and equipment” and deploying a rideout team, a staff that will be on site to assess any damage.
The SLS rocket was 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 returned the rocket to the launch pad last week with the goal of working on a third launch attempt on November 14. It’s not clear 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 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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