As NASA's Space Launch System battles Tropical Storm Nicole, which is now anticipated to intensify into a hurricane before slamming into Florida's East Coast, the Artemis I mission, which is intended to launch an unmanned spacecraft on a test voyage around the moon, is once again postponed.
The third launch attempt was originally planned for November 14, but NASA said in a statement Tuesday evening that it is now looking at November 16 "pending safe conditions for staff to return to work, as well as inspections once the storm has passed." A two-hour launch window on November 16 would start at 1:04 a.m. ET.
According to CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller, the SLS rocket is currently on its launchpad at Kennedy Space Center, which is located just to the north of where the storm's centre is anticipated to make landfall. As a result, the region will likely see some of the storm system's greatest winds.
According to Miller, if the cyclone reaches Category 1 strength, which is expected to be 75 miles per hour (120 kph), gusts may reach 80 to 90 miles per hour (130 to 145 kph). That could imply that winds stronger than the rocket's predetermined limits of endurance will batter it. According to officials, SLS is built to withstand wind gusts of up to 85 miles per hour (137 kph).
Additionally, the National Weather Service in Melbourne, Florida, has predicted that the maximum wind gusts will occur early on Thursday morning and will be 86 miles per hour, according to Miller. Therefore, it is very feasible that wind gusts will exceed that limit.
According to the most recent forecast from the National Hurricane Center, there is also a 15% possibility that sustained hurricane-force winds will reach Cocoa Beach, which is located approximately 20 miles (32 kilometres) south of the launch site.
The largest dangers at the pad, according to projections, are severe winds, which aren't anticipated to surpass the SLS design, according to a statement from NASA officials.
The statement continues, "The spacecraft hatches have been locked to avoid water entry and the rocket is intended to survive severe rains at the launch site."
As the storm was still an unnamed system forming off the East Coast last week, the space agency made the decision to roll the SLS rocket out to its launchpad. According to remarks made by Mark Burger, a launch weather officer with the US Space Force's 45th Weather Squadron, at a NASA news conference on November 3, officials had been anticipating this storm to bring in sustained winds of around 25 knots (29 miles per hour) with gusts of up to 40 knots (46 miles per hour), which was deemed to be well within the predetermined limits of what the rocket can withstand.
Burger stated on Thursday that there is just a 30% possibility that it would develop into a designated storm. Despite this, the models consistently predict the development of a low pressure system.
But on Monday, three days after the rocket was brought out to the launchpad, the storm did develop into a designated system.
Given that Nicole is predicted to be the first hurricane to hit the United States in November in almost 40 years, the storm's power is unique.
The Orion spacecraft, which is perched atop the SLS rocket, as well as the rocket's side boosters and other components, have all been powered down in anticipation of the storm, according to NASA.
In addition, the statement reads, "Engineers have fitted a hard cover over the launch abort system window, retracted and secured the crew access arm on the mobile launcher, and established the parameters for the environmental control system on the spacecraft and rocket parts." Teams are also securing neighbouring hardware and conducting walkdowns to check for any debris.
In a tweet posted on Tuesday, Kennedy Space Center stated that it is "in a HURICON III position and continues to prepare for the oncoming storm taking sensible steps across all of our programmes, activities, and staff in advance of the storm."
As part of the HURICON III preparations, "securing facilities, property, and equipment" will be done, as well as sending out a rideout team, or personnel, to survey any damage.
After problems with fuel leaks prevented the first two launch attempts, the SLS rocket was packed away for weeks. In September, Hurricane Ian forced the rocket to leave the launchpad.
NASA representatives brought the rocket back to the launch pad last week in preparation for a third launch attempt on November 14. It is unclear whether or how the storm would affect those plans.
The main objective of NASA's Artemis programme is to send people back to the moon for the first time in 50 years. And the Artemis I mission, which is anticipated to be the first of many, will set the groundwork by testing the rocket, spacecraft, and all of its subsystems to make sure astronauts can safely travel to and from the moon.
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Edited by: Satyavrat Singh