NASA has canceled its Artemis I launch scheduled for Sept. 27 as Tropical Storm Ian continues to intensify, potentially strengthening into a major hurricane to hit Florida next week. The agency still hasn’t decided whether it will return the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to the Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), but says it will make a final decision on Sunday.
During a meeting on Saturday morning, the teams decided to forgo preparations for Tuesday’s launch date so that they can configure systems to spin the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft back to the Vehicle Assembly Building. says NASA. The agency adds that engineers have “delayed a final decision on the role until Sunday,” which “will allow for the collection and analysis of additional data.”
Artemis I update: @NASA forgoes a launch opportunity on Tuesday, Sept. 27, and is preparing to roll back as it continues to monitor the weather forecast related to Tropical Storm Ian.
— NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (@NASAKennedy) September 24, 2022
The unmanned 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 return humans to the lunar surface by 2025. While the first launch attempt ended due to engine problems, the second was aborted due to a major fuel leak.
On Friday, NASA officials remained confident the Artemis I rocket is ready to launch after a successful test of its troubled fuel system. The Artemis I team managed to fill the rocket with the super-cooled liquid hydrogen fuel needed for the actual launch, with only “controllable” leakage occurring. NASA also got a Space Force extension that allows the megarocket to stay on the launch pad 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 the now-cancelled September 27 launch date, NASA has also indicated a potential backup launch date for October 2 in case things don’t work out. But if NASA decides to roll back the rocket, that probably means the launch date is out of the question. The four-mile journey to the VAB takes several hours and can be may delay launch until November. On the other hand, leaving the rocket outside could expose it to dangerous weather conditions, with NASA officials saying the rocket can only withstands wind gusts up to 85 mph while on the launch pad.