NASA won’t be trying to thread the weather needle with its Artemis 1 lunar mission after all.
The space agency was targeting the launch of Artemis 1 on Tuesday, September 27 from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), on the Atlantic coast of Florida. That remained the plan as late as Friday (September 23), though NASA officials stressed they were closely watching a brewing storm in the Caribbean called Tropical Depression 9.
Tropical Depression 9 intensified into Tropical Storm Ian Friday evening and is expected to intensify further. It is moving north and most models predict it will hit Florida by the middle of next week as a full hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Related: NASA’s Artemis 1 Lunar Mission: Live Updates
After: 10 unusual facts about the Artemis 1 lunar mission
NASA certainly doesn’t want the multibillion-dollar Artemis 1 Stack — a Space Launch System (SLS) mega-rocket topped with an Orion space capsule — on the pad in hurricane-force winds, so it’s spinning the wheels on a possible rollback to the protection of KSC’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). And that prep work takes a Sept. 27 launch on the table.
“During a meeting on Saturday morning, the teams decided to withdraw from preparation for Tuesday’s launch date to allow them to configure systems to roll back the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft to the Vehicle Assembly Building,” NASA officials wrote in an update. Morning (opens in a new tab) (September 24). “Engineers have deferred a final decision on the rollover until Sunday, September 25, to allow for additional data collection and analysis.”
If the team decides to keep Artemis 1 on the pad, the mission could still hit the backup launch date of October 2. However, a rollback to the cavernous VAB would almost certainly put that day out of the game as well.
Artemis 1 is NASA’s first mission Artemis programwhich aims to establish a permanent human presence on and around the moon by the end of the 2020s. Artemis 1 will send Orion on an uncrewed journey to lunar orbit and back. If all goes well with the flight, Artemis 2 will launch astronauts around the moon in 2024 and Artemis 3 will land boots near the lunar south pole in 2025 or 2026.
The Artemis 1 stack has been at KSC’s Launch Pad 39B since mid-August. NASA initially tried to launch the mission on August 29 and September 3, but was thwarted by technical issues each time.
The September 3 issue was a liquid hydrogen propellant leak at an interface between the SLS core stage and the rocket’s mobile launch tower. The mission team solved this problem by replacing two seals in the affected area. The effectiveness of this repair was demonstrated in a long refueling test on the pad Wednesday (September 21).
Mike Wall is the author of “The low (opens in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) Or on Facebook (opens in a new tab).