NASA called off its Artemis I launch scheduled for September 27th as Tropical Storm Ian continues to intensify, potentially strengthening into a major hurricane that strikes Florida next week. The agency still hasn’t decided whether to roll back the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to the Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) but indicates it will make a final decision on Sunday.
“During a meeting Saturday morning, teams decided to stand down on preparing for the Tuesday launch date to allow them to configure systems for rolling back the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft to the Vehicle Assembly Building,” NASA states. The agency adds that engineers “deferred a final decision about the roll to Sunday,” which will “allow for additional data gathering and analysis.”
The uncrewed launch is a test of NASA’s SLS rocket that will catapult the Orion capsule around the Moon, and is part of the agency’s overarching goal to bring humans back to the lunar surface in 2025. While the first launch attempt ended due to engine issues, the second was cut short due to a large fuel leak.
On Friday, NASA officials remained confident that Artemis I rocket is ready to launch following a successful test of its troubled fueling system. The Artemis I team managed to fill up the rocket with the super-chilled liquid hydrogen fuel necessary for the actual launch, running into only “manageable” leakage. NASA was also granted an extension from the Space Force that allows the megarocket to stay on the launchpad without testing the batteries in its Flight Termination System, a safety feature that destroys the rocket if something goes wrong during its flight.
Aside from its now-canceled September 27th launch date, NASA also penciled in October 2nd as a potential backup launch date in case things didn’t pan out. But if NASA decides to roll back the rocket, that likely means its backup launch date is out of the question. The four-mile journey to the VAB takes several hours, and could potentially delay the launch to November. On the other hand, leaving the rocket outside could subject it to dangerous weather conditions, with NASA officials saying the rocket can only withstand wind gusts up to 85mph while on the launchpad.