Artemis 1 SLS to shelter from Hurricane Ian in assembly building
NASA has opted to return the Artemis 1 Space Launch System rocket to the Vehicle Assembly Building to shelter from the potential effects of Hurricane Ian.
The agency was hoping to fly Artemis 1 as early as Sept. 27 with a backup opportunity on Oct. 2 following the completion of repairs and last week’s tanking demonstration on the vehicle. However, the potential for tropical weather has caused NASA to call off its launch plans.
“Managers met Monday morning and made the decision based on the latest weather predictions associated with Hurricane Ian, after additional data gathered overnight did not show improving expected conditions for the Kennedy Space Center area,” NASA said in a Sept. 26 update. “The decision allows time for employees to address the needs of their families and protect the integrated rocket and spacecraft system.”
First motion of the Artemis 1 SLS rocket is expected at about 11 p.m. EDT Sept. 26 (3:00 UTC Sept. 27), 2022, from Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It should take about 10 to 12 hours to reach the VAB.
NASA had been pushing off the decision since its Sept. 23 press conference about the completion of last week’s tanking demonstration on Sept. 21. The agency was reluctant to make a firm decision because of the uncertainty of the path then tropical depression nine, and now Hurricane Ian, would take. It is also moving slower than initial forecast models.
Even now, the ultimate path remains uncertain. Some models show the storm making landfall in the Florida panhandle while some show it making landfall south of Tampa, Florida.
NASA said on Friday the SLS rocket could safely remain at the pad as long as wind gusts were under 74 knots (85 miles per hour). However, the limit for rolling the rocket back to the VAB is about 40 knots (46 miles per hour) of sustained winds while the crawler-transporter is in motion.
In the lead up to today’s decision, teams began rolling the crawler-transporter underneath the rocket in the early-afternoon hours of Sunday.
After the SLS rocket is back at the VAB, it’s unclear when the next attempt to launch Artemis 1 will occur. The next window runs from Oct. 17-31. However, it’s possible NASA won’t have enough time to return to the pad before the window closes.
After the October window, NASA could launch SLS in the mid-to-late November timeframe.
When it does launch, Artemis 1 is expected to be the first of a series of launches designed to return humans to the Moon. This first mission is uncrewed and will verify the rocket and Orion spacecraft’s systems during a multi-week mission around the Moon.
Artemis 1 will pave the way for the crewed Artemis 2 mission no earlier than mid-2024. That mission will see four humans — three American’s and one Canadian — fly on a free-return trajectory around the Moon.
Then, in 2025 or 2026, Artemis 3 is expected to be the first mission to send humans to the surface of the Moon since the last Apollo mission in December of 1972.
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.