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Update (Monday, Sept. 26): NASA has decided to roll back its Space Launch System rocket to the Vehicle Assembly Building due to Hurircane Ian, the agency said Monday. The process will start at 11 p.m. EDT tonight and take about 12 hours.
Update (Sunday, Sept. 25): NASA, now looking at a slower moving Hurricane Storm Ian, will take more time to see if the Space Coast’s forecast changes before making an Artemis rollback decision.
The latest information, NASA said in a statement, points to “a slower moving and potentially more westerly track of the storm than yesterday’s predictions showed, providing more time for the agency’s decision making process and for employees to prioritize their families should the storm impact the Kennedy Space Center area.”
Managers are set to meet this evening to discuss whether or not a rollback of the rocket to the VAB is needed. If the rocket stays at the pad, there’s a chance SLS could launch during the Oct. 2 window that opens at 2:52 p.m. EDT.
”The exact time of a potential rollback will depend on future weather predictions throughout the day and could occur Monday or very early Tuesday morning,” the agency said.
Stay tuned here or floridatoday.com/space for the latest.
NASA officials, already working through technical issues ahead of the Artemis I moon mission, have opted to call off next week's scheduled launch attempt as Hurricane Ian approaches Florida.
Citing the storm and its projected track showing landfall on the state's west coast, officials on Saturday said the next window to fly — Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 11:37 a.m. — would not be possible due to weather. Ian was expected to strengthen into a hurricane late Sunday.
"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 said in a Saturday statement. "Engineers deferred a final decision about the roll to Sunday to allow for additional data gathering and analysis."
If officials decide a rollback from pad 39B to the VAB is necessary, that roughly 11-hour process would begin Sunday night or Monday morning.
Two previous attempts to launch Artemis I on a roughly month-long mission to the moon and back were called off due to technical issues at pad 39B. First, one of the rocket's four RS-25 main engines appeared to have out-of-range temperatures due to a faulty sensor; then, a significant hydrogen leak didn't allow NASA to fuel the rocket enough for the second attempt.
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Since the second attempt earlier this month, however, teams have conducted a successful fueling test and confirmed fixes to the system worked as planned.
Ian, meanwhile, continued to churn and gather strength just south of Cuba, according to the latest update from the National Hurricane Center. Projections Saturday showed it strengthening to Category 3 status just before making landfall just north of Tampa early Thursday.
But the last few updates from the NHC have shown some promise for NASA officials as the projected path continues moving slightly west. If that trend holds and projections show wind speeds at Kennedy Space Center will be less than 74 knots (about 85 mph), then NASA might opt to keep the rocket on the pad until the next window opens.
As it stands, the current window to fly closes Oct. 4. With the Sept. 27 attempt called off, another try on the backup date of Oct. 2 is possible but depends on several factors. If SLS rolls back to the VAB, that window will likely not be possible.
Beyond that, the next two-week batch of flight opportunities does not open again until Oct. 17. The 24th to 26th, along with the 28th, would be the only blackout dates during that period.
Artemis I is NASA's first mission under its new return-to-the-moon program. If SLS successfully launches its uncrewed Orion capsule to the moon and back, that will pave the way for astronauts to do the same for Artemis II no earlier than 2024. Artemis III will follow and put two people on the lunar surface sometime before 2030.
The Space Force, meanwhile, on Friday moved to "HURCON V" status and began preparing its two Space Coast bases – Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and Patrick Space Force Base – for Ian's impacts. Because it's responsible for public safety, military branch has the final say on what launches from both KSC and the Cape and when.
The next couple weeks were set to be a busier-than-usual period for the Space Coast, and it still remains to be seen what will and won't happen. The four-person crew flying SpaceX's next mission to the International Space Station were slated to arrive Monday afternoon ahead of launch from pad 39A at 12:45 p.m. EDT Monday, Oct. 3. That timeline could also be impacted by Ian.
United Launch Alliance is also targeting Friday, Sept. 30, for its next Florida launch. An Atlas V rocket is slated to fly with two commercial communications satellites owned by Luxembourg-based SES at 5:36 p.m. EDT, but this timeline again depends on potential impacts from Ian.
For the latest, visit floridatoday.com/launchschedule.
Current launch windows for Artemis I:
Sunday, Oct. 2:
Launch time: 2:52 p.m. EDT
Launch window: 110 minutes
Orion splashdown: Nov. 11
Next launch period:
Opens Oct. 17, closes Oct. 31
Oct. 17 to 23 would be short missions (26 to 28 days)
Oct. 27 and 39 to 31 would be long missions (38 to 42 days)
Blackout dates: Oct. 24 to 26, plus Oct. 28
Visit floridatoday.com/space three hours before each window opening for live video and real-time updates.
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Hurricane Ian delays NASA's Artemis I launch, VAB rollback tonight