NASA’s Artemis 1 moon rocket survived the wrath of Tropical Storm Nicole in good shape and remains on track to launch next Wednesday (November 16) as planned, agency officials said.
Nicole slammed into Florida’s Space Coast Thursday (Nov. 10) as a Category 1 hurricane, battering the region with high winds and driving rain before weakening into a tropical storm. The Artemis Stack 1 – a Space Launch System (SLS) mega-rocket topped with an Orion capsule – took the storm’s punch, enduring it in the open at Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) from NASA.
The SLS and its Orion spacecraft apparently have a strong jaw, as post-storm inspections revealed only minor damage that shouldn’t prevent an on-time liftoff, NASA officials said.
“Right now, there’s nothing stopping us from reaching 16,” Jim Free, associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Development Missions Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, told a news conference. Friday afternoon (November 11). Liftoff is currently scheduled for Nov. 16 at 1:04 a.m. EST (0604 GMT).
Related: NASA’s Artemis 1 Lunar Mission: Live Updates
After: 10 unusual facts about the Artemis 1 lunar mission
Nicole loosened caulking on Orion, squirted water into the arm that provides access to the capsule from the Artemis 1 launch tower and ripped one of the SLS motors’ rain covers, Free said.
The mission team is working on these and several other minor issues and expects to resolve them in time for liftoff on Wednesday, he added.
That’s not to say Artemis 1 is guaranteed to lift off that day, though; the other boxes must also be checked.
For example, the mission team planned to power up both the SLS and Orion on Friday, Free said, and then move on to “program-specific engineering testing” on the mission hardware. Any hiccups in these procedures could potentially cause a delay.
Artemis 1 is no stranger to delays. The mission was to be launched at the end of August, but several technical problems postponed the take-off by a month.
Then, in late September, the team rolled Artemis 1 from Pad 39B and brought it back to KSC’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for shelter from Hurricane Ian, which hit the Space Coast hard. .
Mission team members kept SLS and Orion in the VAB for some time, taking time out to perform upgrades and maintenance. They brought Artemis 1 back to the pad on November 4, shortly before Nicole bubbled up in the Atlantic.
Early forecasts suggested the storm wouldn’t be much of a problem for SLS and Orion. But Nicole got stronger surprisingly quickly, then put the Space Coast in her sights.
On Tuesday (November 8), NASA pushed back the planned liftoff of Artemis 1 by two days, from November 14 to November 16. But by then it was too late to bring Artemis 1 back to VAB.
“We weren’t going to have the tailwinds that we want when we ride,” Free said.
The team members did not believe that this decision put Artemis 1 in serious danger; models and forecasts suggested that SLS would be able to handle the pressure Nicole was placing on it. And it turned out to be the case, Free said.
SLS is certified to withstand peak wind gusts of up to 85 mph (137 km/h) at the 60-foot (18-meter) level “with structural margin,” NASA officials said. (opens in a new tab). The maximum wind speed at that altitude that Nicole threw at the rocket on Thursday was 82 mph (132 km/h), Free said.
Winds were stronger at higher altitudes on Thursday, but they did not exceed SLS design limits, he added.
Artemis 1 is the first mission of NASA’s 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 uncrewed Orion to lunar orbit and back, on a deconfinement cruise designed to demonstrate that the capsule and SLS are ready for crewed missions.
The November 16 launch window opens at 1:04 a.m. EDT (0604 GMT) and lasts for two hours. If Artemis 1 cannot take off that day, backup opportunities are available on Nov. 19 and 25, Free said.
Mike Wall is the author of “The low (opens in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) Or on Facebook (opens in a new tab).
#NASAs #Artemis #lunar #mission #track #Nov #launch #storm