A potential hurricane threatens NASA’s next lunar launch

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida has entered hurricane preparedness mode as Subtropical Storm Nicole threatens the peninsula. Meanwhile, the space agency says its 97.84m-tall SLS rocket will remain on the launch pad – at least for now.

NOAA is currently tracking Nicole, saying the storm will produce heavy rain Wednesday night and Thursday over the Florida peninsula, and predicts tropical storm-force winds will arrive at Kennedy Space Center by Wednesday morning. So, on the face of it, Florida is on the verge of a Category 1 hurricane at the end of the season.

In anticipation of Nicole, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center entered HURCON IV status, a hurricane preparedness mode that kicks in 72 hours before sustained 93 mph (94 mph) winds arrive. This Hurricane Condition Alert Level includes “implementation of organization-specific checklists,” ensuring all vehicles are fully fueled and confirming Rideout Team (ROT) personnel ).

Kennedy Space Center may be in HURCON IV mode, but its gigantic rocket, with the Orion spacecraft nestled atop, isn’t going anywhere, at least not yet. NASA transported the Space Launch System to Launch Pad 39B on Friday in preparation for an early Monday morning launch.

In short statement published this afternoon, NASA said that, “based on current forecast data”, mission managers have decided to keep SLS and Orion on the pad and not move it to the assembly building nearby vehicles for shelter. “Teams at Kennedy will continue to monitor the weather, ensure all personnel are safe, and assess the status of Monday’s launch attempt…for the Artemis 1 mission as we progress and receive updates. updated weather forecast.”

For NASA, it’s already seen. The space agency was ready to launch the 5.75 million pound SLS on September 27, but Hurricane Ian sent the rocket back to VAB. In the days leading up to the rollback, however, managers waited until Ian’s potential trajectory was more evident. In this case, Nicole’s trajectory is also uncertain, as she could “move inland through parts of the Florida peninsula” or “turn north near or along the east coast of the Florida,” as Michael Brennan, acting director of the National Hurricane Center, told the Orlando. Sentinel. Alternatively, Nicole “could stay just offshore and move more towards the Georgia and Carolina coasts,” he added.

In addition to knowing the hurricane’s track, NASA officials will want an accurate assessment of the storm’s winds. The SLS can withstand wind gusts of 137 mph (137 km/h) at the deck, while the rollback can withstand sustained winds up to 46 mph (74 km/h).

The next Artemis missions are supposed to bring NASA back to the Moon after 50 years away. For the Artemis 1 mission, the space agency will launch its SLS rocket for the first time and send an uncrewed Orion on a 25-day mission around the moon and back, setting the stage for a nearly identical crewed mission in 2024.

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