NASA’s mega lunar rocket, the Space Launch System, suffered minor damage from Hurricane Nicole, which is ready for repairs ahead of Wednesday’s launch.
Nicole landed on Thursday as Category 1 hurricane with winds reaching 75 miles per hour near Vero Beach, about 70 miles south of Kennedy Space Center, where the $4 billion SLS and Orion spacecraft stood on the launch pad.
NASA plans November 16 at 1:04 a.m. for the third attempt to launch the unmanned Orion around the moon and back for the Artemis 1 test flight.
The space agency decided earlier this week to keep the 322-foot-tall rocket on Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39B, where it has been since its Nov. 4 rollout.
In hindsight, NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development Jim Free said that if the agency had known Nicole was going to become a hurricane before the rollout, they would have left the rocket in the Vehicle Assembly Building. Still, prior to the rollout with the current forecast for Nicole – which was still a subtropical storm at the time – there were no dissenting opinions about getting the rocket on the launch pad.
“We also design it to be outside. And if we didn’t design it to be outside in inclement weather, we chose the wrong starting point and we should have designed the vehicle better,” he said.
During Nicole, observations were made at 55 feet, 132 feet and up to 457 feet at the launch pad. Each altitude has a different certification wind limit.
Despite wind measurements available through the National Weather Service showing gusts of up to 100 miles per hour, Free said the anemometers measured gusts that didn’t exceed the SLS’s wind limits.
“During the event, the hurricane, all measurements showed that these limits were not exceeded,” Free said. “So the loads will vary at each of these heights and the peak that we can take at each of these heights. None of these were exceeded for our certification limits.”
According to NASA, the SLS can remain on the launch pad at 60 feet in peak winds of up to 74.1 knots (85 mph). Free said the limit still has a 25% margin, meaning the rocket can withstand stronger winds.
Storm cleanup begins before launch
On Friday, NASA teams will power up the rocket systems to make sure everything is working.
Free listing of several minor repairs and maintenance that need to be done because of Nicole.
Some caulking around the Orion spacecraft loosened up during Nicole and needs to be “snipped off,” according to Free. The sealant used near Orion’s launch abort system can be accessed through the crew access arm.
Some water got into the crew’s access arm and is being mopped up.
A crew also went up the launch tower to place an umbilical cord to the Orion spacecraft back into the bearing shell. Free said this included a person climbing more than 300 feet to straighten the umbilical cord.
WHAT WILL NASA’S ARTEMIS 1 MISSION DO?
“You can imagine the altitude there,” he said.
Free said nothing was stopping NASA from moving forward with Wednesday’s launch. The countdown begins Tuesday when the SLS is refueled with more than 700,000 gallons of cryogenic propellant.
According to Free, the decision to launch will be made in the same way as if astronauts were aboard Orion for that flight.
“People care about the quality of their work,” Free said. “We will always look carefully when we put people on it, but from our point of view, from the requirements, we were within the requirement limits, and the strength of this vehicle and the strength of the design of this vehicle are the same as the strength of the design of Artemis II.”
Artemis II will be the first astronaut launch on Orion that will also orbit the moon.
Should the launch not take place on Wednesday, the backup launch window will open on November 19 at 1:45 am
NASA also received Federal Aviation Administration approval for a November 25 Black Friday launch opportunity.