NASA pushes back Artemis I launch again over Storm Nicole fears

Brian Cox outlines goals of NASA's Artemis 1 mission launch

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NASA has announced that it will be pushing back the next scheduled launch attempt of the Artemis I mission from Monday to Wednesday next week. The decision was made in light of the latest data on Tropical Storm Nicole, which is expected to achieve hurricane status before it makes landfall in Florida tonight. The space agency has said that the two-day delay in the launch will allow Kennedy Space Center workers to prepare themselves for the storm, and to inspect the launch site for potential damage in Nicole’s wake. The new target launch window is a two-hour slot that opens at 1.04am EST (06.04am GMT) on November 16. A successful blast-off on this date, NASA said, would lead to the Orion capsule returning to Earth on December 11, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.

A NASA spokesperson said: “NASA is continuing to monitor Tropical Storm Nicole and has decided to re-target a launch for the Artemis I mission for Wednesday November 16.”

The decision, they explained, was motivated by ensuring that employees were able to return to work in safe conditions, and have time to perform inspections, after the storm has passed.

The space agency continued: “Adjusting the target launch date will allow the workforce to tend to the needs of their families and homes.”

It will also, they added, “provide sufficient logistical time to get back into launch status following the storm”.

NASA associate administrator Jim Free tweeted: “Our people are the most important aspect of our mission. Adjusting our target launch date for Artemis I prioritises employee safety.”

According to NASA, the Kennedy Space Center in Florida is currently in a HURCON (Hurricane Condition) III status.

The HURCON number refers not to the severity of the storm, but the time until sustained winds in excess of 50 knots, or just under 58 miles per hour. III is 48 hours off.

Tasks undertaken during HURCON III including both securing equipment, facilities and property at the centre, but also briefing and deploying the so-called “ride-out” team.

NASA explained: “A ride-out team includes a set of personnel who will remain in a safe location at Kennedy throughout the storm to monitor centerwide conditions — including the flight hardware for the Artemis I mission.”

Non-essential personnel will leave the Kennedy Space Center when the complex reaches HURCON II status, 24 hours to the arrival of 50 knot sustained winds.

In preparation for Nicole’s arrival, NASA has powered down the Orion spacecraft and the various parts of the rocket — including the SLS core stage ,the interim cryogenic propulsion stage and the booster rockets.

Engineers have also secured the hatches of the Orion spacecraft to protect against water intrusion, installed a hard cover over the launch abort system window and retracted and secured the crew access arm on the mobile launcher.

NASA added: “Teams also are securing nearby hardware and performing walkdowns for potential debris in the area.

“Teams are poised to resume work as soon as weather and Kennedy centre status allows. Once back on-site, technicians will perform walkdowns and inspections at the pad to assess the status of the rocket and spacecraft as soon as practicable.”

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Should NASA prove unable to get the Artemis I mission off the ground next Wednesday, a backup two-hour launch window is also available on Saturday November 19, opening at 1.45am (6.45am GMT) in the morning.

Launch opportunities are also potentially available on 23–25 and 27 November, as well as 9–13, 15–16 and 16–22 December.

However, use of these slots will require approval of the US Space Force’s Eastern Range, and should Artemis I be delayed for too long, the need may arise to roll back the SLS to the vehicle assembly building once again.

This would be necessary to recharge the batteries in the CubeSat payloads and the rocket’s so-called flight termination system, which allows NASA to safely destroy the SLS in the event of an issue occurring after takeoff.

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