NASA inspects the Artemis I rocket after Hurricane Nicole

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The Artemis I moon rocket is still standing after battling Hurricane Nicole, which made landfall as a Category 1 storm about 70 miles south of Kennedy Space Center in Florida overnight. The $4.1 billion rocket weathered the storm while on display on its launch pad.

It’s not yet clear how the hurricane affected the rocket, called the Space Launch System, or the Orion spacecraft that currently sits atop, but the first inspections have begun.

“Our team is doing initial visual checks of the rocket, spacecraft and ground system equipment with the cameras on the launch pad. Camera inspections show very minor damage such as loose filler and tears in the weather coverings. The team will be performing additional on-site inspections on the vehicle soon,” according to a Thursday afternoon. statement from Jim Free, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Missions Directorate.

“Teams monitored SLS and Orion remotely during the storm and successfully maintained purges and other critical support,” the statement said.

Prior to the arrival of Hurricane Nicole, wind gusts and potential debris were concerns for the Artemis I mission team. The rocket is designed to withstand winds of 85 miles per hour (74, 4 knots) with some leeway, NASA officials noted Tuesday. statement.

“While wind sensors on the launch pad detected peak wind gusts of up to 82 miles per hour (71 knots) at the 60-foot level, this remains within the rocket’s capabilities. We plan to clean the vehicle for these conditions shortly,” Free said.

But on Thursday evening, a NASA spokesperson confirmed to CNN that sensors at the 467-foot (142-meter) level of the lightning towers indicated the wind peak was reaching up to 100 miles per hour (87 knots) at this place.

At 5:15 a.m. ET Thursday, sensors on one of the lightning towers surrounding the rocket also recorded wind speeds of 75 miles per hour (65 knots), with gusts of up to 100 miles per hour. hour (87 knots). Data from some of the sensors, which belong to NASA and the US Space Force, is available on the National Weather Service website. website.

This website states that the sensor producing this data is 2 meters (7 feet) above the ground. However, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s forecast office in Melbourne, Florida, told CNN that was inaccurate. The sensor’s actual height is 230 feet (70 meters), which should provide accurate readings for the types of winds the 322-foot (98-meter) high rocket has endured.

NASA did not respond to requests for comment on this detail on Thursday.

The space agency decided to deploy the SLS rocket to its launch pad last week while the storm was still an unnamed system brewing off the east coast. At the time, officials expected the storm to bring sustained winds of around 29 miles per hour (25 knots) with gusts of up to 46 miles per hour (40 knots). These were judged to be well within the predetermined limits of what the rocket can withstand, according to comments from Mark Burger, a launch meteorological officer in the United States. The 45th Space Force Weather Squadron, during a NASA press conference Nov. 3.

“The National Hurricane Center has only a 30% chance of becoming a named storm,” Burger said at the press conference. “However, that being said, the models are very consistent on the development of some sort of low pressure.”

But the storm became a named system on Monday, three days after the rocket rolled out to the launch pad.

“We took the decision to keep Orion and SLS on the launch pad very seriously, reviewing the data in front of us and making the best decision possible with high uncertainty in the four-day weather forecast,” according to the Free press release published on Thursday. “With the unexpected change in forecast, the return to the Vehicle Assembly Building was deemed too risky in high winds, and the team decided the launch pad was the safest place for the rocket to confront. storm.”

Transporting the mega moon rocket between the launch pad and the vehicle assembly building is no small feat. It usually takes about three days of preparation before the maneuver can take place. The slow 6.4 kilometer journey aboard a giant NASA Apollo-era crawler takes 10 to 12 hours under favorable conditions. If the rocket were to be pulled back as a storm approached, it could only withstand sustained winds of less than 46 miles per hour (40 knots).

The strength of the storm was unusual, with Nicole becoming the first hurricane to hit the United States in November in nearly 40 years.

To prepare for the storm, NASA said in a statement Tuesday that its teams had shut down the Orion spacecraft as well as the rocket’s side thrusters and other components. Engineers also installed a hard cover to protect the rocket’s launch abort system window and took other steps to prepare ground systems.

The SLS rocket had been stored for weeks after fuel leak problems thwarted the first two launch attempts, then Hurricane Ian passed through Florida, forcing the rocket off the launch pad in September.

NASA officials returned the rocket to the launch pad last week with the aim of working towards a third launch attempt on Nov. 14, but that schedule was pushed back to Nov. 16 as NASA acknowledged the looming threat of Hurricane Nicole on Tuesday. It is unclear whether the launch date will be moved again as NASA searches for damage.

The overall goal of NASA’s Artemis program is to return humans to the Moon for the first time in half a century. And the Artemis I mission – expected to be the first in a long series – will lay the groundwork, testing the rocket and spacecraft and all of their subsystems to ensure they are safe enough for astronauts to fly. to the moon and back.


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