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 uncrewed spacecraft on a test mission around the moon, is further delayed as NASA’s Space Launch System faces Tropical Storm Nicole, which is now expected turn into a hurricane before it hit the east coast of Florida.

The space agency was aiming for Nov. 14 for the third launch attempt, but is now looking to Nov. 16, “pending safe conditions for employees to return to work, as well as post-storm inspections.” , NASA said in a statement late Tuesday. . November 16 would provide a two-hour launch window that would open at 1:04 a.m. ET

The rocket, often referred to as SLS, is sitting on its launch pad at Kennedy Space Center, which is just north of where the center of the storm is expected to make landfall, noted CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller. This means the region can expect some of the strongest winds the system will bring.

If it is a 75 mph (120 km/h) Category 1 hurricane, as expected, gusts could range between 80 and 90 miles per hour (130 to 145 km/h ), according to Miller. This could mean that the rocket will be battered by winds above the predetermined limits of what the rocket can withstand. Officials said the SLS is designed to withstand gusts of up to 85 miles per hour (137 km/h).

“Additionally, the National Weather Service in Melbourne, Florida forecast peak wind gusts occurring early Thursday morning at 86 miles per hour,” Miller added. “So yes, it’s entirely possible for gusts of wind to exceed that threshold.”

The National Hurricane Center’s latest report also gives a 15% chance that Cocoa Beach, which is about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of the launch site, will experience sustained hurricane-force winds.

NASA, however, said in its statement that “forecasts predict the greatest hazards on the pad 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 have been secured to prevent water intrusion,” the statement continued.

The space agency decided to deploy the SLS rocket to its launch pad last week as the storm was still on. an unnamed system brewing off the east coast. At the time, officials expected this storm to bring sustained winds of around 25 knots (29 miles per hour) with gusts of up to 40 knots (46 miles per hour), which was deemed well within the predetermined limits of what the rocket can withstand, according to comments from Mark Burger, a launch meteorological officer in the United States The 45th Space Force Weather Squadron, during a NASA press conference Nov. 3.

“The National Hurricane Center has only a 30% chance of becoming a named storm,” Burger said last Thursday. “However, that being said, the models are very consistent on the development of some sort of low pressure.”

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

The strength of the storm 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 shut down the Orion spacecraft, which sits atop the SLS rocket, along with the rocket’s side thrusters and other components.

“Engineers also installed a hard cover over the launch abort system window, retracted and secured the crew access arm on the mobile launcher, and configured the environmental control system settings on the spacecraft and the elements of the rocket,” the statement said. “Teams are also securing nearby equipment and conducting walk-throughs to detect potential debris in the area.”

Kennedy Space Center announced on his Twitter to feed As of Tuesday, it is “in HURICON III status and continues to prepare for the coming storm by taking careful precautions in all of our programs, activities and workforce ahead of the storm.”

Preparations for HURICON III include “securing facilities, property and equipment” as well as the deployment of a rescue team, meaning personnel who will be on site to assess any damage.

The SLS rocket had been stored for weeks after fuel leak problems thwarted the first two launch attempts, then Hurricane Ian passed through Florida, forcing the rocket off the launch pad in September.

NASA officials returned the rocket to the launch pad last week with the aim of working towards a third launch attempt on November 14. It’s unclear how or if the storm could impact 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 in a long series – will lay the groundwork, testing the rocket and spacecraft and all of their subsystems to ensure they are safe enough for astronauts to fly. to the moon and back.

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