NASA assesses damage to Artemis 1 lunar rocket from Tropical Storm Nicole
NASA has begun assessing how well its Artemis 1 lunar rocket withstood the powerful storm that hit its spaceport in Florida today.
That vortex was Nicole, which slammed into Florida’s Space Coast on Thursday morning (November 10) as a Category 1 hurricane but weakened to a tropical storm as it moved inland. Nikola’s wind and rain tethered the Artemis 1 vehiclelocated atop Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
“Our team is conducting initial visual checks of the rocket, spacecraft and ground system equipment with cameras on the launch pad,” said Jim Free, associate administrator of the Mission Directorate for Research Systems Development at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. it was announced via Twitter (opens in new tab) on Thursday afternoon.
“Camera inspections show very minor damage such as loose sealing and tears in the weather covers,” he added. “The team will be conducting additional on-site inspections of the vehicle shortly.”
Sensors on Pad 39B recorded peak wind gusts of 82 mph (132 km/h) at a height of 60 feet (18 meters) during Nikola’s passage, Free said.
Those wind speeds are “within the capabilities of the rocket,” he pointed out. “We expect to clear the vehicle for those conditions soon.”
Indeed, the SLS is designed to withstand winds of up to 85 mph (137 km/h) at the 60-foot level “with a structural margin,” NASA officials said in statement on Tuesday (November 8).
Artemis 1 will send Orion on an unmanned journey to lunar orbit and back. NASA is preparing to launch the mission as early as Wednesday (November 16). It’s not clear if Nicole changed that calculation; Free’s Twitter post did not mention the schedule or any possible changes to it.
Weather conditions have already kept Artemis 1 on the ground longer than originally planned. The mission was scheduled to lift off in late September, but NASA rolled the SLS and Orion off Pad 39B and returned to KSC’s cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building take shelter from Hurricane Ian.
Artemis 1 returned to the platform on November 4. Nicole’s approach forced NASA to delay the planned launch by two days, from November 14 to November 16. But mission team members decided to keep the rocket on the pad during the storm, which became significantly stronger than early forecasts predicted.
“Given the unexpected change in the forecast, returning to the vehicle assembly building was deemed too risky in the high winds, and the team decided that the launch pad was the safest place for the rocket to ride out the storm,” Free said.
As its name suggests, Artemis 1 is NASA’s first mission Artemis program research of the month.
If all goes well on Artemis 1, Artemis 2 will launch astronauts on a mission around the moon as early as 2024. Artemis 3 will then land boots near the moon’s south pole in 2025 or 2026, if current schedules hold.
Mike Wall is the author of “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 on Facebook (opens in new tab).
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