The Artemis I rocket will not have its third launch attempt on Tuesday as planned due to concerns over Tropical Storm Ian making its way toward Cuba and Florida.
NASA’s Artemis team decided on Saturday morning to forego the September 27 launch opportunity and is now preparing the mega moon rocket stack for rollback.
“On Tuesday, Tropical Storm Ian is forecast to be moving north through the eastern Gulf of Mexico as a hurricane, just off the southwest coast of Florida. A cold front will also be draped across northern Florida pushing south,” said CNN Meteorologist Haley Brink.
“The combination of these weather factors will increase rain chances across much of the Florida peninsula, including the Cape Canaveral area, on Tuesday.” Showers and thunderstorms are expected to be widespread across the region. Ian’s tropical storm-force winds could reach central Florida as early as Tuesday night.”
Meanwhile, the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft continue to sit on the launchpad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Team members will continue to monitor the weather as they decide when to roll the rocket stack back into the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center. NASA will consult with the US Space Force, the National Hurricane Center, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration before making a decision.
Engineers have deferred their final decision about when to roll back as they gather additional data and analysis. Should the team decide to roll back the rocket inside the building, that process would begin late Sunday night or early Monday.
The preparations can cut the three-day process of rolling the spacecraft back inside in half. It can take 10 hours or more once the vehicle is on the slow-moving crawler transport.
The rocket stack can withstand winds of up to 85 miles per hour while remaining on the launch pad (74.1 knots). If the stack must be rolled back into the building, it can withstand sustained winds of up to 46 miles per hour (40 knots).
On Friday, the Artemis team said that October 2 was a backup launch date. But it’s unlikely that new launch date will be set until the rollback decision has been made.
According to a NASA release, “the agency is taking a step-by-step approach to its decision-making process to allow the agency to protect its employees by completing a safe roll in time for them to address the needs of their families while also protecting the option to press forward with another launch opportunity in the current window if weather predictions improve.”
Concerns about a developing weather system in the Caribbean make the weather only 20% favourable for a launch, according to a forecast released by the US Space Force on Friday.
Due to launch constraints, the Artemis I mission cannot fly through any precipitation. According to the Space Force, the launch constraints are intended to avoid natural and rocket-triggered lightning strikes on in-flight rockets, which could cause damage to the rocket and endanger public safety.
Rocket-triggered lightning forms when a large rocket flies through a strong enough atmospheric electric field, so a cloud that is not producing natural lightning could still cause rocket-triggered lightning, according to the Space Force.