NASA inspects the Artemis I rocket after Hurricane Nicole

NASA inspects the Artemis I rocket after Hurricane Nicole
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The Artemis I moon rocket remains stationary after battling Hurricane Nicole, which made landfall as a Category 1 storm. At night about 70 miles south of Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The $4.1 billion rocket stormed out while sitting open on the launch pad.

It is not yet clear how the hurricane affected the rocket, called the Space Launch System, or the Orion spacecraft that is currently sitting on it. but preliminary checks have started.

“Our team performs a preliminary visual inspection of the rocket, spacecraft and ground system equipment with cameras on the launch pad. Camera inspections show very minor damage such as loose caps and tears in the airfoils. The team will soon conduct additional on-site landing checks on the vehicle,” it said Thursday afternoon statement From Jim Free, associate administrator for NASA’s Intelligence Systems Development Mission Directorate.

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

Wind gusts and potential debris were a concern for the Artemis I mission team before Hurricane Nicole made landfall. The rocket is designed to withstand winds of 85 miles per hour (74.4 knots) by a small margin, NASA officials said Tuesday. statement.

“Although wind sensors on the launch pad detected wind gusts of 82 miles per hour (71 knots) at the 60-foot level, this is well within the rocket’s capabilities. We expect the car to be cleared of these conditions soon,” said Free.

But on Thursday evening, a NASA spokesperson confirmed to CNN that sensors at the 467-foot (142-meter) level of the lightning towers indicated that the peak winds at that location reached 100 miles per hour (87 knots).

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

That website says the sensor that produces that data is 7 feet (2 meters) off the ground. However, a meteorologist at 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-tall (98-meter-tall) missile endures.

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

The space agency decided last week to take the SLS rocket to the launch pad because the storm was still raging. an unnamed system on the east coast. At the time, officials expected the storm to bring sustained winds of about 29 mph (25 knots) and gusts of 46 mph (40 knots). According to the comments of US launch meteorologist Mark Burger, these were considered within the predetermined limits of what the rocket could withstand. The Space Force’s 45th Airlift Squadron at a NASA press conference on Nov. 3.

“The National Hurricane Center has only a 30 percent chance that it will become a named storm,” Burger said at a news conference. “However, that being said, the models are very consistent in producing some kind of low pressure.”

But the storm became a named system on Monday, three days after the rocket was launched from the launch pad.

“We took the decision to keep Orion and SLS on the launch pad very seriously, reviewed the information in front of us, and made the best decision possible with the high uncertainty in the four-day weather forecast,” Free said in a statement Thursday. “With an unexpected change in the forecast, the return to the Automotive Assembly Building was deemed too risky in the high winds and the team decided that the launch pad was the safest place to ride out the storm.”

Transporting a 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 a maneuver can take place, and there are a limited number of laps the mission team can perform. A leisurely 4-mile (6.4-kilometer) cruise aboard the giant Apollo-era NASA crawler takes 10 to 12 hours in favorable conditions. If the rocket had to retreat as a storm approached, it would only be able to handle sustained winds of less than 46 miles per hour (40 knots).

The hurricane’s strength was unusual, making Nicole 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 boosters and other components. Engineers also installed a hard cover to protect the missile’s launch arrest system window and took other steps to prepare the ground systems.

The SLS rocket was held up for weeks after problems with a fuel leak prevented the first two launch attempts. Hurricane Ian has passed Florida forced the rocket to vacate the launch pad in September.

NASA officials returned the rocket to the launch pad last week The plan was to work on a third launch attempt on November 14, but that schedule changed to November 16 as NASA acknowledged the imminent threat of Hurricane Nicole on Tuesday. It is unclear if the launch date will be moved back as NASA investigates the 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 of many, will lay the groundwork by testing the rocket and spacecraft and all their subsystems to ensure they are safe enough to fly astronauts to the Moon and back.

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