NASA expects its problem-marred Artemis I launch to proceed when its next launch window opens on November 14 local time.
That window opens at 12.07am USEST and extends for 69 minutes. NASA can also launch on November 16 at 1:04am, or November 19 at 1:45am if required.
The Artemis is the space agency’s program to return people to the Moon over the next decade, starting with this first uncrewed mission, which will send the new Orion spacecraft into orbit around our lunar neighbour.
But the Artemis I launch has been blocked by a series of challenges: First an engine cooling problem on the mission’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, and then a refuelling leak.
It was finally wheeled back to the garage due to the arrival of Hurricane Ian off the Florida coast.
Despite these setbacks, NASA’s associate administrator of exploration systems development James Free expects the SLS to be punching through Earth’s atmosphere come mid-November.
“We are on track to roll back to the launchpad this evening [local time],” Free says.
“Everyone feels really good about the launch… if we weren’t confident, we wouldn’t rollout, if we weren’t confident we wouldn’t start the countdown.
“This is a challenging mission. We’ve seen challenges just getting all our systems to work together, and that’s why we do a flight test. It’s about going after the things that can’t be modelled, and we’re learning by taking more risk on this mission, before we put crew on there.
“We have three good attempts lined-up on the 14th, 16th and 19th.”
The extended hiatus due to Hurricane Ian allowed ground crew to re-inspect the rocket and spacecraft in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Centre.
This process included checks to the rocket’s thermal protection system (which protects the spacecraft from the intense heat of re-entry), recertifying flight termination system hardware, and recharging primary and secondary batteries on the Orion spacecraft. The flight termination system is required on all NASA rockets, to destroy the SLS in the event it veers significantly off-course during take-off.
Weather watch for nearby storm front
Although Free and the NASA team are bullish about their launch prospects, there is the possibility of weather again posing a launch barrier, with a low-pressure system developing south of the launch site. Predicted wind speeds are within the thresholds for keeping the rocket on the launch pad.
The front is being closely watched and is expected to move towards the Florida coast in the early part of next week.
“There’s still a lot of inconsistencies on exactly where that [front] may end up, and whether or not it even does acquire a significant tropical characteristic to even become a named storm,” says Mark Berger, a weather officer for the nearby Space Launch Delta 45 station.
“That’s all very much out in play at this point, in fact the National Hurricane Centre has it as a thirty percent chance of becoming a named storm.”