NASA’s Artemis 1 moon rocket survived the wrath of Tropical Storm Nicole in good condition and remains on track for a launch next Wednesday (Nov. 16) as planned, agency officials said.
Nicole hit Florida’s Space Coast on Thursday (November 10) as a Category 1 hurricane, lashing the area with strong winds and rain before weakening to a tropical storm. The Artemis 1 stack—a large Space Launch System (SLS) with an Orion capsule—took the brunt of the storm, weathering it in the open on Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
The SLS and Orion spacecraft apparently have a strong jaw, as post-storm inspections revealed only minor damage that shouldn’t prevent a timely liftoff, NASA officials said.
“Right now, there’s nothing stopping us from getting to the 16th,” Jim Free, associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington, said during a press conference Friday afternoon (Nov. 11). Liftoff is currently targeted for November 16th at 1:04am. EST (0604 GMT).
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Nicole lost some caulking on Orion, sent some water into the arm that allows access to the capsule from the Artemis 1 launch tower and tore off one of the rain covers on the SLS engines, Free said.
The mission team is working to address these and many other minor issues and expects to clear them up in time for Wednesday’s liftoff, he added.
However, that doesn’t mean Artemis 1 is guaranteed to get off the ground that day. other boxes must be checked.
For example, the mission team planned to power up both SLS and Orion on Friday, Free said, and after that proceed with “program-specific technical tests” on the mission’s hardware. Any hiccup in these processes could potentially cause a delay.
Artemis 1 is no stranger to delays. The mission was supposed to launch in late August, but several technical glitches pushed liftoff back a month.
Then, in late September, the team rolled Artemis 1 off Pad 39B and returned to KSC’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to shelter from Hurricane Ian, which hit the Space Coast hard.
Mission team members kept SLS and Orion in the VAB for a while, taking time to perform some upgrade and maintenance work. They put Artemis 1 back on the pad on November 4, just before Nicole boiled over in the Atlantic.
Early predictions suggested the storm wouldn’t be much of a problem for SLS and Orion. But Nicole powered up surprisingly quickly and then set her sights on the Space Coast.
On Tuesday (Nov. 8), NASA pushed back the planned launch of Artemis 1 by two days, from Nov. 14 to Nov. 16. But by then, it was too late to return Artemis 1 to the VAB.
“We weren’t going to get the favorable winds that we would have liked when rolling,” Free said.
Team members did not believe that this decision put Artemis 1 in serious danger. models and forecasts suggested that SLS could handle the pressure Nicole put on it. And that was proven in the case, Free said.
The SLS is certified to withstand maximum wind gusts of up to 85 mph (137 km/h) at the 60-foot (18-meter) level “with structural margin,” NASA officials said (opens in new tab). The maximum wind speed at that height Nicole dropped on the rocket Thursday was 82 mph (132 km/h), Free said.
Winds were stronger at higher altitudes on Thursday but did not exceed SLS’s design limits, he added.
Artemis 1 is the first mission in NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to establish a permanent human presence on and around the moon by the end of the decade. The flight will send an uncrewed Orion to lunar orbit and back, on a cruise designed to prove that the capsule and SLS are ready for crewed missions.
The November 16 launch window opens at 1:04am. EDT (0604 GMT) and lasts two hours. If Artemis 1 cannot lift off that day, backup opportunities are available on Nov. 19 and Nov. 25, Free said.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out there (opens in new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018, illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or up Facebook (opens in new tab).