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NASA’s Artemis I launch called off due to tropical storm

NASA had been aiming to try for a third time to launch its new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), on the Artemis I mission this week. However, due to tropical storm Ian which could threaten the Florida coast, the agency has announced it is canceling the launch and is considering rolling the rocket off the launch pad.

A state of emergency has been declared in Florida due to the storm, with Governor Ron DeSantis warning on Saturday that the storm could strengthen into a hurricane. It is thought that the storm could strengthen throughout today, Sunday, September 25, and it is currently headed toward Cuba and the Florida coast.

NASA announced on Saturday that it would not be going ahead with the launch which had been planned for Tuesday, September 27, and which was to have taken place from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “During a meeting Saturday morning, teams decided to stand down on preparing for the Tuesday launch date to allow them to configure systems for rolling back the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft to the Vehicle Assembly Building,” NASA wrote in an update. “Engineers deferred a final decision about the roll to Sunday, September  25, to allow for additional data gathering and analysis.”

Two previous attempts at launching the SLS along with the Orion spacecraft were hampered by technical issues, including an engine issue and a leak of liquid hydrogen fuel. To try to stave off any further problems in the third launch attempt, NASA performed a tanking test on the rocket last week.

In the tanking test on Wednesday, September 21, the rocket was filled with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen fuel, to check that there were no occurrences of leak issues. NASA deemed the test a success, announcing that all objectives had been met after there was a leak early in the test but the team managed to fix it by reducing the pressure and troubleshooting the problem. The launch had been looking good to go before news of the tropical storm came in.

Now, NASA must decide whether to roll the rocket off the launch pad and back into the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) where it is housed — which is not a simple operation and takes time. However, it seems likely that this will be done to protect the rocket from a potential storm. NASA says that if it does decide to roll the rocket back to the VAB, that would happen late tonight or early Monday morning. The agency has not announced any dates for when a future launch attempt could take place.

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