Tropical storm delays next Artemis 1 launch attempt

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WASHINGTON — NASA is postponing the next Artemis 1 launch attempt by at least two days as a tropical storm, forecast to become a hurricane, approaches the Florida coast.

NASA announced late Nov. 8 that it would no longer pursue a launch of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft from the Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 14. Before the announcement, NASA had been working towards a launch of the Artemis 1 mission at 12:07 a.m. Eastern that day, at the opening of a 69-minute window.

The agency said the slip will give personnel time to prepare for the approaching Tropical Storm Nicole, currently in the Atlantic Ocean heading west towards the east coast of Florida. Forecasts from the National Hurricane Center predict the storm will strengthen into a hurricane before reaching the coast south of KSC early Nov. 10.

Despite the approaching storm, NASA will keep SLS on the pad at Launch Complex 39B, where it rolled out early Nov. 4. Agency officials said in a briefing the day before the rollout that they were tracking the potential for the formation of a tropical storm but concluded that even if the storm developed, it would not be strong enough to damage the vehicle.

NASA said that assessment is still valid even though the storm is forecast to be stronger that previously predicted. “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 (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft secured at the pad,” NASA said in a statement announcing the delay.

The SLS is rated to withstand winds of up to 137 kilometers per hour — above the minimum speed for a hurricane — at the 18-meter level at the pad. “Current forecasts predict the greatest risks at the pad are high winds that are not expected to exceed the SLS design,” the agency stated.

NASA said that, in preparation for the storm, it powered down the SLS and Orion and secured equipment, as well as looked for debris around the pad that could become airborne in the storm. KSC itself is in HURCON, or Hurricane Condition, 3, securing facilities and setting up a “rideout” team that would remain at the center as the storm passes.

With the Nov. 14 launch opportunity ruled out, the next possible launch date is Nov. 16, with a two-hour window opening at 1:04 a.m. Eastern. Another launch window, also two hour long, opens at 1:45 a.m. Eastern Nov. 19. Those dates, NASA said, will depend on the status of SLS and Orion, and KSC overall, after the storm passes.

The current launch period runs through Nov. 27, although there are no launch opportunities Nov. 20 or 21, as well as Nov. 26, because of Orion performance constraints. Agency officials earlier said that launches on the remaining days would be difficult because of the high air traffic during the Thanksgiving holiday, but had tentatively identified Nov. 25 as a potential launch date if Artemis 1 does not launch by Nov. 19.

If Artemis 1 does not launch in November, the next launch period opens Dec. 9 and runs through Dec. 22.