NASA has begun evaluating how well its Artemis 1 lunar rocket has withstood the violent storm that hit the Florida spaceport today.
That whirlpool was Nicole, which hit the Florida Space Coast on Thursday morning (November 10) as a Category 1 hurricane but weakened to a tropical storm as it moved inland. Nicole’s wind and rain hit Artemis 1, which is on launch pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
The Artemis 1 stack — a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket topped with an Orion crew capsule — appears to have made it through the ordeal virtually unscathed, according to NASA officials.
“Our team is conducting initial visual inspections of the rocket, spacecraft, and ground system hardware using cameras at the launch pad,” Jim Free, assistant administrator of the Office of Exploration Systems Development Mission at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said on Twitter. (will open in a new tab) Thursday afternoon.
“Camera checks show very minor damage, such as peeling sealant and tears in the weather coating,” he added. “The team will conduct additional on-site inspections of the vehicle shortly.”
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Free said sensors at Site 39B recorded peak winds of 82 miles per hour (132 km/h) at 60 feet (18 meters) during Nicole’s pass.
He noted that these wind speeds are “within the capabilities of the rocket.” “We expect the car to be cleared for these conditions soon.”
Indeed, the SLS is rated for winds up to 85 mph (137 km/h) at 60 feet “with design overhead,” NASA officials said in a statement Tuesday (November 8).
Artemis 1 will send Orion on an unmanned journey to and from lunar orbit. NASA is preparing to launch the mission as early as Wednesday (November 16). It is not clear if Nicole changed this calculus; Free’s Twitter post did not mention the schedule or any possible changes to it.
The weather had already kept Artemis 1 on the ground longer than originally planned. The mission was due to begin in late September, but NASA rolled the SLS and Orion away from Launch Pad 39B back into the cavernous KSC Vehicle Assembly Building to shelter from Hurricane Yang.
Artemis-1 returned to the site on November 4. Nicole’s approach forced NASA to delay the planned launch by two days, from November 14 to November 16. the landfall of the storm, which was much stronger than early forecasts predicted.
“Due to an unexpected change in the forecast, returning to the vehicle assembly building was deemed too risky in high winds, and the team decided that the launch site would be the safest place for the rocket to weather the storm,” Free said.
As the name suggests, Artemis 1 is the first mission of NASA’s Artemis program to explore the moon.
If all goes well with Artemis 1, Artemis 2 will send astronauts on a mission around the moon as early as 2024. Artemis 3 will then stop near the moon’s south pole in 2025 or 2026 if current schedules are followed.
Mike Wall is the author of Out There (will open in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrations by Carl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (will open in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) or on facebook (will open in a new tab).