Artemis I can’t catch a break. NASA’s much-delayed uncrewed around-the-moon mission has a new obstacle to deal with ahead of its scheduled Nov. 14 launch date. A powerful storm is heading for Florida, and it could bring potentially damaging winds with it.
Currently, Nicole is a tropical storm that will likely ramp up to hurricane status as it nears the Florida coast. Artemis I is sitting on launchpad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center near Orlando. The rocket is designed to weather winds of up to 74 knots (85 mph/137 kph) while on the pad. It’s possible Nicole could bring winds that exceed that limit, but the storm’s exact path and eventual strength are unknown at this time.
On Monday, NASA said it’s monitoring the storm and preparing for its arrival. “Based on current forecast data, managers have determined the Space Launch System rocket and Orion will remain at Launch Pad 39B,” the agency said.
NASA rolled Artemis I — which consists of the massive Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and an Orion spacecraft capsule on top — back to the launchpad last week after having tucked it away in its giant garage for safekeeping during Hurricane Ian in late September.
A Tuesday morning message from the National Hurricane Center says Nicole is expected to strengthen and bring hurricane conditions to the Florida coast beginning on Wednesday. A hurricane warning is in effect for some areas. The NHC also warns of a dangerous storm surge along much of the east coast of Florida.
NASA made the call to leave Artemis I on the pad in hopes of hitting the anticipated Monday launch window. It can take several days to roll the rocket back into its garage, so it looks like SLS and Orion will have to weather whatever impact the storm brings. NASA’s Office of Inspector General, an oversight group, has estimated the cost (PDF link) of a single Artemis launch at about $4.1 billion (£3.5 billion/AU$6.3 billion), so leaving it outside represents an expensive gamble.
Artemis I is the first big step in NASA’s attempt to return humans to the surface of the moon. There will be no astronauts on board, but the space agency wants to show the rocket system and spacecraft are ready to safely carry humans to our lunar neighbor.
There are a lot of unknowns at this point. Where will Nicole land? How strong will it be? Will it have a severe impact on Kennedy Space Center? The hope is for Artemis I to emerge from the storm intact and ready for launch, but it’s too soon to tell.