An incoming hurricane is forcing NASA’s big moon mission off the launch pad again.
Hurricane Ian, which is bearing down on Florida for a predicted landfall Thursday (Sept. 29), caused NASA to decide to roll back the Artemis 1 mission’s Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket to shelter from the launch pad, the agency said via a blog post (opens in new tab) Monday (Sept. 26).
Artemis 1 was supposed to lift off for the moon Oct. 2, although it has been delayed several times already; Ian already had forced a delay from a planned attempt Tuesday (Sept. 27). A new launch date has not yet been set.
The agency will begin moving the massive SLS rocket and the uncrewed Orion spacecraft at 11 p.m. EDT Monday (0400 GMT Tuesday, Sept. 27). Live coverage of the 8 to 10 hour journey will be available here at Space.com, via NASA Television (opens in new tab), as well as on NASA’s website, app and social media.
In pictures: NASA’s Artemis 1 moon rocket looks spectacular in these amazing photos
Artemis 1 will then ride out the storm in NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building; winds are forecast to reach at least 76 mph (opens in new tab) (122 km/h), according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Following the storm, NASA has said a slip to mid-October at the least is likely.
“The decision allows time for employees to address the needs of their families and protect the integrated rocket and spacecraft system,” NASA wrote in the blog post. “The time of first motion also is based on the best predicted conditions for rollback to meet weather criteria for the move.”
NASA managers made the decision using data from NOAA, U.S. Space Force (which manages the launch range surrounding the agency’s Kennedy Space Center), and the National Hurricane Center.
In photos: NASA’s Artemis 1 moon rocket spotted from space
Artemis I Update: NASA will roll the Artemis I Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft back to the Vehicle Assembly Building on Monday, Sept. 26. First motion is targeted for 11 p.m. EDT.MORE: https://t.co/817ahBkTqy pic.twitter.com/3xJ0O5pnPNSeptember 26, 2022
This will be Artemis 1’s third stay in the VAB. The mission was there for initial integration, then rolled out to the pad June 6 for an initial fueling test. Following numerous issues with the test on June 20, the big stack rolled back again July 2 to the VAB for more integration, and then came back to the launch pad Aug. 16 and 17, where several launch dates have passed by since due to weather or technical issues. (The agency also successfully completed another fueling test last week.)
NASA managers have said the system is rated for two more rollbacks to the VAB, so after this hurricane decision it appears the stack will need to launch after its return to the launch pad. Artemis 1’s mission calls for Orion to circle around the moon and return on an approximately 40-day mission, as a shakedown cruise ahead of the crewed Artemis 2 no earlier than 2024.