Bad weather is ahead Tropical Storm Janexpected to turn into a hurricane, NASA managers on Saturday ruled out a third attempt to launch the Artemis 1 rocket on Tuesday, but left open the option of launching on Oct. 2, the current backup date.
That would require leaving the $4.1 billion, 330-foot-tall Space Launch System rocket exposed to the elements at Pad 39B, assuming forecasters say winds won’t exceed 74 knots, the certified safety limit.
NASA’s Artemis 1 management team delayed a decision on whether to tow the rocket back to the safety of the Vehicle Assembly Building, hoping for better overnight forecasts that could allow it to overcome the weather at the site.
A decision is expected on Sunday. If the rollback is ordered, the 4.2-mile trip from Pad 39B to Kennedy Space Center’s iconic Vehicle Assembly Building will begin late Sunday or early Monday.
This will allow the agency to “protect its employees by completing a safe circulation in time for them to meet the needs of their families, as well as protect against the possibility of continuing another launch in the current window if weather forecasts improve,” NASA said in a statement. said in a blog post.
The Space Launch System rocket is the most powerful launch vehicle ever built for NASA, and will generate 8.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, enough to launch the Orion crew craft into lunar orbit.
The upcoming first rocket flight — the Artemis 1 mission — will be unmanned. NASA hopes to send four astronauts on a journey around the moon in 2024, followed by a landing near the south pole as part of the Artemis 3 mission, which is optimistically scheduled to launch in 2025-26.
But first, the Artemis 1 mission must lift off the ground, and the Orion capsule must successfully orbit the Moon and safely complete the hellish high-speed re-entry at the end of the flight, proving that the capsule’s heat shield will protect astronauts returning from deep space.
The SLS rocket can only go to the Moon during the launch period, allowing carefully designed trajectories that take into account a wide range of factors, including the constantly changing position of the Earth and the Moon, the desired lunar orbit, proper lighting for Orion’s solar arrays, and optimized communications.
After several fuel tests and work to fix numerous problems, including repeated hydrogen leaks, NASA attempted to launch the Artemis 1 mission on August 29, but it was derailed by new plumbing problems at the site. A second attempt on September 3 was also aborted due to another hydrogen leak.
After working to replace a suspect seal in a quick-release fitting, NASA conducted a refueling test, and although the fitting initially leaked, engineers were able to adjust the flow rate and pressure to successfully fill the rocket’s tanks, setting the stage for a third launch attempt on Tuesday. Then Jan intervened.
The current lunar launch period ends on October 4, seven days after Tuesday. But two of those days—October 29 and 30—are unavailable due to trajectory constraints and three feature launch windows of less than an hour.
NASA had previously reserved Oct. 2 as a backup launch date, a goal the agency is defending by delaying a rollback decision until Sunday. If forecasters can give NASA managers confidence that the rocket won’t be hit by winds gusting above 74 knots, the SLS launch vehicle can beat the weather on the pad, keeping the Oct. 2 option.
But if the rocket is not removed from the site by Oct. 4, the end of the current launch period, it will anyway face a rollback to the VAB for battery maintenance in a self-destruct system that cannot be accessed from the launch pad.
Space Force East, which oversees all military and civilian launches from Florida, previously extended the battery maintenance waiver to allow launches through the end of the current period, but it is unclear what options may be available after that.
The next launch period starts on October 17th and runs until October 31st.