NASA’s historic unmanned mission to the moon is facing new difficulties. The new launch of the Artemis 1 mission scheduled for Tuesday is now threatened by a gathering of storms in the Caribbean after two launch attempts were derailed by technical issues a few weeks ago.
The as yet unnamed storm is currently located in the southern Dominican Republic.
But it is expected to develop into a hurricane in the next few days and possibly move north to Florida, home to the Kennedy Space Center, from where the rocket will be launched.
“Our plan A was to stay the course and launch on Sept. 27,” Mike Bolger, manager of NASA’s exploration ground systems, told reporters Friday. “But we realized we also needed to really focus and think about plan B. .”
This will require pushing the massive Space Launch System rocket back into the vehicle assembly building known as the VAB.
“If we were to go to Plan B, we would need a few days to recover from the current tank test or launch configuration to perform a rollback and get back into the protection of the VAB,” Bolger said, adding that it should be done by Saturday early afternoon.
On the launch pad, the orange and white SLS rocket can withstand wind gusts of up to 137 kilometers per hour. But if it had to be shaded, it would miss the current launch window, which runs until October 4.
The next launch window will run from October 17th to 31st, with the possibility of one takeoff per day except October 24th to 26th and 28th.
After years of delays and cost overruns, a successful Artemis 1 mission would be a huge relief for NASA. But another setback will be a blow to NASA, after two previous launch attempts were called off after the rocket encountered technical glitches including a fuel leak.
The launch date depends on whether NASA receives a special waiver to avoid retesting the batteries on the emergency flight system, which is used to destroy the rocket if it deviates from its designated range into a populated area.
On Tuesday, the launch window will open at 11:37 local time for 70 minutes.
If the rocket took off that day, the mission would last 39 days before landing in the Pacific Ocean on November 5.
The Artemis 1 space mission hopes to test the SLS, as well as the unmanned Orion capsule on top, in preparation for a future manned trip to the moon.
A mannequin equipped with sensors is serving astronauts on the mission and will record acceleration, vibration and radiation levels.
The next mission, Artemis 2, will send astronauts into orbit around the moon without landing on the lunar surface.
The crew of Artemis 3 will land on the moon as early as 2025.