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Update: NASA has decided to call off the Tuesday, Sept. 27, Artemis I launch attempt due to impacts from Tropical Storm Ian, which is expected to strengthen to hurricane status early Monday. A backup attempt on Sunday, Oct. 2, is likely to be unfavorable as well but depends on several factors. For the latest, visit floridatoday.com/space.
NASA plans on pushing forward with an attempt at launching its Artemis I moon mission next week, though forecasted weather conditions are unlikely to be favorable as a tropical system slowly takes aim at Florida.
After two previous launch attempts were scrubbed by technical issues, teams at Kennedy Space Center conducted a successful fueling test at pad 39B this week. With the issues – mainly related to liquid hydrogen – worked out, officials are pushing forward with a liftoff during the next 70-minute window that opens at 11:37 a.m. EDT Tuesday, Sept. 27.
NASA officials Friday said they were confident the rocket was ready to launch. But a storm developing in the Caribbean, likely to become Hurricane Hermine over the weekend or early Monday, is introducing more uncertainties beyond hardware. A Friday forecast issued by the Space Force shows 80% "no-go" conditions during Tuesday's Artemis I launch window.
"Since (the test), we've been keeping a close eye on what's called Tropical Depression No. 9," Mike Bolger, NASA's manager of ground systems, said during a Friday teleconference. "Our Plan A is to stay the course and get a launch off on Sept. 27, but we realize we also need to really pay attention and think about Plan B."
Bolger said he and other mission managers would need to make a decision based on the storm's latest track Saturday morning or afternoon at the latest. If NASA needs to dodge the storm, the 322-foot Space Launch System rocket will need to roll back to the Vehicle Assembly Building.
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"NASA will make a decision on whether to remain at the launch pad or rollback using incremental protocols to take interim steps necessary to protect people and hardware with a final decision anticipated no later than Saturday afternoon," NASA said in a release late Friday.
One of the main factors involved in making a final decision is forecasted winds: if the National Hurricane Center, Space Force forecasters, and other officials see the potential for peak gusts of 74 knots (about 85 mph), teams will have to roll back to the VAB. That process will take about three days.
"We would need a couple days to pivot from the tanking text and exit the launch configuration for rollback to the VAB," Bolger added.
A backup window is available at 2:52 p.m. EDT Sunday, Oct. 2, but the forecast for that opportunity will not be available until next week. Beyond that, the next opportunity to fly won't come until Oct. 17 and closes again after Oct. 31.
SLS's flight termination system, designed to destroy the rocket in the event of an emergency, is certified by the Space Force. As the agency responsible for public safety, it must sign off on the system's batteries every 25 days. SLS's current certification expired earlier this month and re-certification work can only be done inside the VAB.
The Space Force, which oversees launch safety, gave NASA a waiver to go forward with launch attempts Tuesday and Oct. 2.
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.
"We've got a robust design, but we want to protect the vehicle," SLS Chief Engineer John Blevins said. "We're just going to look at what the forecast is ... and certainly we'll have to make a decision over the next 24 hours."
Current launch windows for Artemis I:
Tuesday, Sept. 27:
Launch time: 11:37 a.m. EDT
Launch window: 70 minutes
Orion splashdown: Nov. 5
Sunday, Oct. 2:
Launch time: 2:52 p.m. EDT
Launch window: 110 minutes
Orion splashdown: Nov. 11
Visit floridatoday.com/space three hours before each window opening for live video and real-time updates.
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: NASA delays next Artemis I launch attempt due to Tropical Storm Ian