ORLANDO, Fla. – With the threat of Hurricane Ian, NASA isn’t going to risk its $4.1 billion rocket to the moon deciding to roll it back to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center forgoing a chance to launch Artemis I next week.
“Managers met Monday morning and made the decision based on the latest weather predictions associated with Hurricane Ian, after additional data gathered overnight did not show improving expected conditions for the Kennedy Space Center area,” reads a post to NASA’s website Monday. “The decision allows time for employees to address the needs of their families and protect the integrated rocket and spacecraft system.”
The first motion for the 4-mile trek back to the VAB will take place around 11 p.m., the post reads. The time was chosen as the best time to adhere to weather constraints when moving the 5.75 million-pound, 322-foot-tall combination of Space Launch System rocket, mobile launcher and Orion spacecraft to the safety of the Vehicle Assembly Building, which will travel on NASA’s crawler-transporter 2.
NASA had already decided to skip a launch attempt slated for Tuesday because of the approaching storm, but was monitoring Ian’s growth and projected path hoping the threat to the Space Coast would be limited.
The rocket can withstand 85 mph sustained winds on the launch pad, but the threat of tornadoes and hurricane-level gusts are still possible as of Monday morning’s forecasts.
By electing to roll back to the VAB, NASA will be able to take care of some battery recharging activities including the flight termination system as well as some of the rideshare cubesats that will be deployed when it heads to the moon.
The next available launch windows run from Oct. 17-31, Nov. 12-27 and Dec. 9-23. Each window has only certain days during which the Earth and moon are in the right position for the planned mission.
Artemis I is an uncrewed mission that combines the mobile launcher, Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft. The SLS’s 8.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff would become the most powerful rocket to ever launch from Earth besting the Saturn V rockets from the Apollo missions.
The Orion spacecraft will be propelled into a trans-lunar injection during which plans are to send it to as far as 280,000 miles away, 40,000 miles farther than the moon. It will make several orbits of the moon over several weeks before returning to Earth faster than any human-rated spacecraft has ever attempted re-entry, coming in at 24,500 mph creating heat of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
The goal is to make sure Orion can endure extremes to keep humans safe on future missions. If successful, Artemis II could fly with a crew to orbit the moon 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.