NASA has examined the consequences of Hurricane Nicole on their Artemis 1 mission, and the rocket looks to be ready to go to the Moon!
After surviving Hurricane Nicole on Wednesday and Thursday, Orion and the Space Launch System (SLS) experienced only minor problems. As a consequence, NASA is optimistic that Artemis 1 will be launched on November 16 for a roughly 25-day journey in orbit.
On Wednesday morning, Tropical Storm Nicole had sustained winds of up to 112 km/h and was expected to reach Hurricane 1 status overnight into Thursday, with wind speeds of roughly 120 km/h. The storm made landfall just south of the Space Coast, putting Kennedy Space Center right in the line of some of Nicole’s greatest winds.
The US Space Force 45th Weather Squadron prediction for Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center called for wind speeds of up to 74 km/h overnight from Wednesday to Thursday, with gusts of up to 101 km/h. These were well below what Artemis 1 could endure.
As the storm passed, sensors on the three 182-metre lightning towers that surround the launch pad recorded the actual wind speeds experienced by the rocket. Some of those records, according to the National Weather Service, exceeded the forecast and NASA’s stated limits for the rocket. This included a wind gust of 160 km/h at one point.
During a news conference on Friday, Jim Free, assistant administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, stressed that the rocket’s 138-kph wind tolerance is for speeds recorded at just about 12 meters above ground. The winds detected by the lightning tower sensors, on the other hand, were about 10 times that height (over 120 metres up).
Wind speeds naturally rise with height since friction with the ground decreases as you ascend. Furthermore, we’ve been modeling the change in wind speed with height with equations and computers for some time. So, when you scale that 160 km/h wind gust down from a height of 120 meters to what it would have been at 12 meters, it appears to be a lot less powerful.
On Friday, the Artemis crew assessed the launch site and the rocket and discovered a few small concerns. There was a tear in the engine rain covers, some loose caulk, and water in the crew access arm, for example. There were also concerns with an umbilical between Orion and the SLS. So, while they still have work to do to fix those issues, Orion and SLS escaped Hurricane Nicole largely undamaged.
“There’s nothing standing in our way of reaching the 16th,” Free stated during the briefing.
NASA believes that the mission will be ready for launch on Wednesday, November 16 at 1:04 a.m. EST. If they require additional time, a backup launch date has been prepared for Saturday, November 19.