With the looming threat of probable Hurricane Ian, NASA finally threw in the towel on Saturday for an attempted launch of its Artemis I mission to the moon from Kennedy Space Center.
On Sunday, executives said they would wait longer before making a decision on whether to launch the massive 5.75 million-pound, 322-foot-tall Space Launch System rocket, mobile launch vehicle, and Orion spacecraft combination into the United States safety of the vehicle should roll back or not meeting building.
In an update posted on NASA’s website, that decision won’t be made until Sunday evening, and a possible rollback won’t start until Monday or early Tuesday.
“The latest information provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US Space Force and the National Hurricane Center indicates a slower and possibly more westerly trajectory for the storm than yesterday’s forecasts indicated, allowing more time for the… The agency’s decision-making process and for employees to prioritize their families should the storm hit the Kennedy Space Center area,” the update said.
Originally, NASA hinted that a rollback could potentially begin Sunday evening or early Monday.
With each updated prediction, the effects of the storm’s arrival are getting further and further from the space shore. Initial forecasts said the Space Coast could feel tropical gale force winds Tuesday morning, the same time NASA had scheduled the launch.
What is currently Tropical Storm Ian in the central Caribbean is forecast to become a hurricane Sunday night or Monday morning and then move north across Cuba into the Gulf of Mexico. Its center is expected to be more than 100 miles off the southwest Florida coast on Wednesday, with a possible landfall anywhere from the Panhandle to Fort Myers as a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 105 miles per hour later Friday.
Consensus is tracking the center of the storm targeting the Great Bend south of Tallahassee as of 11 a.m. Sunday.
“The agency is taking a phased approach to its decision-making process to allow the agency to protect its employees by completing a safe role in time to attend to the needs of their families, while protecting the option to proceed with another starting opportunity in the current window when weather forecasts improve,” the first statement said on Saturday.
In a Friday briefing, mission managers noted the rocket had been certified to withstand sustained 85-mph winds on the launch pad. A rollback would take about three days to prepare the hardware for the voyage and make the slow 4-mile journey from Launch Pad 39-B back to the VAB. Officials had previously said that the rollers to and from the VAB can put more stress on the hardware. Therefore, if possible, staying on the launch pad is preferable.
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“We have a robust design, but we want to protect the vehicle,” said John Blevins, SLS chief engineer.
If managers choose to remain on the pad, the next opportunity to launch during this window is Sunday October 24th. 2, a 109 minute window opening at 2:52 p.m. flying for an approximately 41 day mission and on 11/11
After that, NASA would have to step down by the next available window on October 30. 17.-31.11. 12-27 and Dec 9-23. Each window only has specific days when the Earth and Moon are in the correct position for the intended mission.
Artemis I is an unmanned mission combining the mobile launch vehicle, the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft. The SLS’s 8.8 million pound thrust at launch would make it the most powerful rocket ever launched from Earth, surpassing the Saturn V rockets used on the Apollo missions.
The Orion spacecraft will be propelled into a trans-lunar injection during which it is planned to be sent up to 280,000 miles away, 40,000 miles further than the moon. It will make multiple orbits of the moon over several weeks before returning to Earth faster than any human-rated spacecraft has ever attempted reentry, arriving at 24,500 miles per hour and generating 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit heat.
The goal is to ensure Orion can endure Extremes to protect humans on future missions. If successful, Artemis II could fly to lunar orbit with a crew in 2024, and Artemis III could fly as early as 2025 to return humans, including the first woman, to the lunar surface for the first time since Apollo 17 in 1972.
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