The latest impediment to the getting the Artemis mission off of the ground comes in the form of Tropical Storm Ian, a depression that formed over the Caribbean Sea early last week. It has now reached sustained wind speeds of 60 miles per hour as it advances on Cuba. Meteorologists expect Ian to transition into a full-blown hurricane today, making landfall over Florida’s Gulf coast by Thursday —with much of the state, including the Kennedy Space Center, being in its projected path. NASA’s 322 ft tall SLS is capable of withstanding wind speeds of up to 85 miles per hour while exposed on its launch pad. Should the weather look set to exceed this threshold, however, the rocket will need to be sheltered in its assembly building.
A spokesperson for the space agency said: “NASA continues to closely monitor the weather forecast associated with Tropical Storm Ian.
At the same time, they added, engineers are “conducting final preparations to allow for rolling back the Artemis I Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft to the Vehicle Assembly Building.
“Managers met Sunday evening to review the latest information on the storm and decided to meet again Monday to allow for additional data gathering overnight before making the decision on roll back.
“NASA continues to prioritise its people while protecting the Artemis I rocket and spacecraft system.”
Should NASA feel it is safe to keep the SLS on its launch pad this week, it may still be possible to launch the Artemis I mission next Sunday, October 2.
But, if the weather forces a rollback to the assembly building, the next launch attempt will have to be pushed until late October or perhaps even November.
The next launch window runs from October 17–31, with a take-off opportunity possible each day except for October 24–26 and 28.
In the following month there are 12 launch opportunities in the period spanning November 12–27.
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Last week, having repaired the leak to the fuel line, NASA undertook a “cryogenic demonstration test” in which they ran through the fuelling process of the SLS’s core and interim stages, tanking them with more than 730,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen.
The space agency said: “After encountering a hydrogen leak early in the loading process, engineers were able to troubleshoot the issue and proceed with the planned activities.”
The fuelling demo also allowed engineers to revisit the issue which occurred around the kick-start bleed test during the first launch. This test involved using some of the liquid hydrogen fuel to cool down the four RS-25 engines at the base of the rocket’s core stage to a nippy 423F (217C).
The purpose of this was to ensure that the engines are not unduly stressed when the supercool fuel is channelled into them properly at the time of launch. Following the demo, NASA reported “all objectives [were] met”.