NASA assesses Artemis moon rocket after brush with Hurricane Nicole

NASA’s $4.1 billion Artemis Moon rocket, which was exposed to the elements at its Kennedy Space Center launch pad, was rocked by strong winds and driving rain early Thursday. tropical storm nicole The ashes roared as a Category 1 hurricane just south of the spaceport.

blastoff with a long delayed first flight On tap the following week, sensors on pad 39B recorded gusts of 100 mph atop a 467-foot-tall electrical tower near the rocket. But winds at the 60-foot-level, which are part of the booster’s structural certification, peaked at 82 mph, just below the 85 mph limit.

Jim Free, manager of exploration systems at NASA Headquarters, said the observed winds were “within rocket capability.” “We expect to have the vehicle approved for those conditions soon.”

After a season of strong winds and driving rain from Hurricane Nicole, the Space Launch System rockets atop Pad 39B on Thursday. Engineers are assessing the potential impacts and preparedness for launching the rocket on its maiden flight next Wednesday.

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“Our team is conducting preliminary visual checks of rockets, spacecraft and ground systems equipment with cameras on the launch pad,” he tweeted. “Camera inspections showed very minor damage such as loose caulk and tears in weather cover. The team will soon conduct additional on-site walk down inspections of the vehicle.”

In any case, the 322-foot-tall Space Launch System rocket appeared to weather the storm, with no visible signs of trouble, held firmly on eight large bolts, four by a strong stabilizer extending from its mobile launch gantry. was. The base of each of its two solid-fuel boosters, which propels the rocket down before liftoff.

The space center was closed on Wednesday and only a short ride the team stayed at the site overnight. Workers were not expected to gain access to the launch pad until late Thursday at the earliest to begin a detailed inspection.

Meanwhile, engineers reviewed telemetry from a variety of sensors, including strain gauges on hold-down bolts and stabilizers, to determine the forces acting on the giant rocket.

“The SLS rocket is designed to withstand 85 mph winds at a 60-foot level with structural margins,” NASA said in a November 8 blog post.

Data on a NASA web page showing wind speeds at various points on and around pad 39B showed gusts in excess of 85 mph, including readings of 100 mph, but it was not immediately clear if those readings were NASA. How does it fit into the safety guidelines? A wind gauge pad on the roof of the CBS News bureau registered a speed of 87 mph at 4.2 miles.

The Space Launch System rocket is the most powerful rocket ever built for NASA, with 8.8 million pounds of thrust from four Shuttle-era main engines and two extended strap-on solid-fuel boosters.

The Artemis 1 mission aims to boost an unpiloted Orion crew capsule on a 25-day flight around the Moon, which ends with a high-speed reentry and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. If the flight goes well, NASA expects to launch four astronauts around the Moon in 2024, followed by the first in a series of landings starting in 2025 or 2026.

NASA had expected to launch the Artemis 1 mission on Monday, but last week, managers opted to delay the flight by two days to give the team time to prepare for the storm.

If no major problems are found in Nicole’s wake, and if senior managers decide to move on, the countdown clocks will start ticking at 1:54 a.m. EST on Monday, setting up a launch attempt at 1:04 a.m. on Wednesday.

Backup opportunities are available on November 19th at 1:45am and on November 25th at 10:10am the day after Thanksgiving.

Hurricane Nicole was the latest bump on what turned out to be an exceptionally rocky road to launch.

The SLS rocket first rolled onto the pad for an initial fuel test last March and has now made seven trips to and from the Vehicle Assembly Building while engineers have dealt with multiple fuel leaks and unrelated glitches.

Prior to their most recent visit to the pad, senior managers said they knew a subtropical storm was developing in the Caribbean. But forecasters told them there was only a 30% chance that it would develop into a named storm and that if it did hit the coast near the space center, the probability of gusts would be no more than 40 knots.

As the storm strengthened and moved toward Florida, managers opted not to return the SLS to the safety of the Vehicle Assembly Building.

“With the unexpected change in forecast, returning to the Vehicle Assembly Building was considered too risky in high winds,” Frey said. “The team decided that the launch pad was the safest place for the rocket to weather the storm.”

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