First launch of NASA’s Artemis moon rocket slips to Nov. 16

NASA’s Space Launch System moon rocket on pad 39B. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

NASA said Tuesday the launch of its Artemis 1 moon rocket will be delayed from Nov. 14 to no earlier than Nov. 16 as approaching Tropical Storm Nicole interrupts preflight processing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The space agency is keeping the moon rocket at Launch Complex 39B as Tropical Storm Nicole, forecasted to be a hurricane by Wednesday, moves toward Florida’s east coast. But NASA officials decided Tuesday to delay the launch of the long-delayed Artemis 1 mission until Wednesday, Nov. 16, a two-day delay from the previous target launch date.

The Nov. 16 launch date is “pending safe conditions for employees to return to work, as well as inspections after the storm has passed,” NASA said in a statement. “Adjusting the target launch date will allow the workforce to tend to the needs of their families and homes, and provide sufficient logistical time to get back into launch status following the storm.”

NASA’s Artemis 1 moon rocket is being prepared for its next launch attempt to begin a long-delayed unpiloted test flight with NASA’s human-rated Orion spacecraft. The capsule will separate from the rocket and enter orbit around the moon for a series of checkouts before the agency commits to flying astronauts on the next SLS/Orion mission.

The two-hour launch window on Wednesday, Nov. 16, opens at 1:04 a.m. EST (0604 GMT). NASA has a backup launch opportunity Nov. 19, and the current Artemis 1 launch period runs through Nov. 27. The launch period is determined by multiple factors, including the moon’s position in its orbit around Earth and limitations on the mission trajectory to ensure the Orion spacecraft splashes down in the Pacific Ocean in daylight at the end of the mission.

If the Artemis 1 mission blasts off Nov. 16, the Orion spacecraft would return to Earth and parachute into the Pacific Ocean on Friday, Dec. 11.

NASA rolled the 322-foot-tall (98-meter) Artemis 1 moon rocket rocket to the launch pad Friday after moving it back into the Vehicle Assembly Building in late September to take shelter from Hurricane Ian. Pad 39B does not have a moveable gantry to protect the SLS moon rocket, but the giant vehicle is designed to withstand wind gusts up to 85 mph, or 74 knots, at the 60-foot level of the launch facility.

“Based on expected weather conditions and options to roll back ahead of the storm, the agency determined Sunday evening the safest option for the launch hardware was to keep the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft secured at the pad.”

“Current forecasts predict the greatest risks at the pad are high winds that are not expected to exceed the SLS design,” NASA said in a statement. “The rocket is designed to withstand heavy rains at the launch pad and the spacecraft hatches have been secured to prevent water intrusion.”

The SLS moon rocket is the most powerful launcher ever developed by NASA, with four main engines and two strap-on boosters generating 8.8 million pounds at liftoff. NASA has spent a decade and more than $20 billion developing and testing the rocket ahead of its first flight on the Artemis 1 mission.

“In preparation for the storm, teams have powered down the Orion spacecraft, SLS core stage, interim cryogenic propulsion stage, and boosters,” NASA said. “Engineers have 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 settings for the environmental control system on the spacecraft and rocket elements. Teams also are securing nearby hardware and performing walkdowns for potential debris in the area.”

Kennedy Space Center is currently in a HURCON (Hurricane Condition) III status, NASA said. This phase of storm preparations involves securing facilities, property, and equipment at the space center, as well as briefing and deploying the ride-out team of essential personnel that will remain on base during the storm to monitor conditions and the Artemis 1 moon rocket at the launch pad.

Once the storm passes, employees will return to Kennedy Space Center for walkdowns and inspections of the rocket and spacecraft at pad 39B. If the SLS moon rocket and Orion capsule weathered the storm well, NASA could start a two-day countdown Nov. 14 to target liftoff of the Artemis 1 mission Nov. 16.

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