With Tropical Storm Ian approaching the Florida coast, NASA has decided not to go forward with its third attempt to launch its heavy-lift Space Launch System moon rocket on Tuesday.
Yet to be decided: whether the rocket will stay on the pad to ride out the storm, or whether it will be rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
If mission managers decide to move the rocket inside the building for safety’s sake, that could delay the start of NASA’s Artemis 1 round-the-moon mission until November. Liftoff had already been postponed twice due to technical issues with the rocket’s fueling system — issues that NASA says have now been resolved.
The decision to wave off Tuesday’s launch attempt was made on Saturday, and the launch team will decide whether to proceed with a rollback by tonight. If there is a rollback, the rocket’s hours-long journey from the pad would begin on Monday or early Tuesday.
“The agency is making incremental decisions that prioritize the agency’s people and hardware, and its process is in accordance with established NASA policies for tropical storms and hurricanes,” NASA said today in a blog posting.
The National Weather Service is continuing to track Tropical Storm Ian’s route as it plows through the Caribbean Sea. NASA noted that the latest projections indicated “a slower moving and potentially more westerly track of the storm … providing more time for the agency’s decision-making process and for employees to prioritize their families should the storm impact the Kennedy Space Center area.”
Mission managers took advantage of the revised projections to shift the time frame for a potential rollback from the Sunday-Monday time frame to Monday-Tuesday, and gave themselves a few more hours to decide what to do. (We’ll update this report to reflect what NASA decides.)
If the SLS can weather the storm on the launch pad, NASA could theoretically make its next launch attempt on Oct. 2. But if there’s a rollback, NASA would conduct battery maintenance tasks that have so far been put off. That would probably require several weeks of further postponement.
The inaugural launch of the Space Launch System, the most powerful rocket ever built for NASA, would mark the start of NASA’s Artemis 1 mission — a spaceflight that’s been more than a decade and billions of dollars in the making.
The mission calls for the SLS to send an uncrewed Orion capsule on a looping, weeks-long trip around the moon and back. Sensors hooked up to three mannequins will collect data about radiation exposure, temperature and other environmental factors. Orion will also be carrying an experimental Alexa-style voice assistant — created by Amazon in partnership with NASA, Lockheed Martin and Cisco — that could be used on future crewed missions.
If Artemis 1 is successful, that would set the stage for a crewed round-the-moon mission known as Artemis 2 in 2024, and then an Artemis 3 moon landing that could happen as early as 2025.
This is an updated version of a report first published at 1:52 p.m. PT Sept. 24.