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NASA shifts launch date again for its mega moon rocket

NASA’s Artemis I mission just can’t catch a break.

Following several delays earlier this year due to technical issues on the launchpad, and more disruption caused by Hurricane Ian that prompted NASA to roll its next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to shelter, the approaching Tropical Storm Nicole is now causing concern among mission planners.

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Nicole is expected to develop into a hurricane before making landfall in Florida on Thursday morning. After assessing the latest weather data for the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA said on Tuesday that it is no longer targeting Monday, November 14 for the SLS rocket launch that will send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a journey to the moon and back. Instead, it is aiming to send the SLS skyward on Wednesday, November 16.

“NASA is continuing to monitor Tropical Storm Nicole and has decided to retarget a launch for the Artemis I mission for Wednesday, November 16, pending safe conditions for employees to return to work, as well as inspections after the storm has passed,” NASA said in a release on Tuesday.

“Adjusting the target launch date will allow the workforce to tend to the needs of their families and homes, and provide sufficient logistical time to get back into launch status following the storm.”

At the current time, Kennedy is in what is known as a HURCON (Hurricane Condition) III status, which involves securing facilities, property, and equipment at the center. It also has in place a ride-out team that will remain in a safe location at Kennedy throughout the storm to keep a close eye on the flight hardware for the Artemis I mission.

For now, NASA plans to keep the 98-meter-tall SLS rocket on the launchpad, but if the weather conditions worsen significantly, it could take the same action it took with Hurricane Ian and roll the rocket back to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) about four miles from the launchpad.

After spending the entirety of October in the VAB — initially for protection from Hurricane Ian, but also to fix a number of technical issues — NASA rolled the SLS back to the launchpad last Friday.

The space agency says its rocket is designed to withstand 85-mph (74.4-knot) winds at the 60-foot level. Current windspeed forecasts fall within that range.

Hatches on the Orion spacecraft, which sits atop the rocket, have been secured to prevent water intrusion from any rain. For added protection, engineers have also placed a hard cover on the launch abort system window, and secured the crew access arm on the mobile launcher, among other measures, NASA said.

Artemis I, when it finally gets underway, will be a test run for the crewed Artemis II mission taking the same route around the moon. If both go well, Artemis III will endeavor to put the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface, a mission that could take place as early as 2025.

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