by Eric Bweger: NASA said on Friday that its Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft
NASA said on Friday that its Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft appear to have survived their encounter with Hurricane Nicole this week without incurring any significant damage.
“Right now there’s nothing preventing us from getting to the 16th,” said Jim Free, the engineer who leads the development of exploration systems for NASA. To that end, the space agency is working toward a launch at 1:04 am ET (06:04 UTC) on Wednesday, from Kennedy Space Center. This Artemis I mission will send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft around the Moon in preparation for human missions later this decade.
Free said Nicole produced significant winds over the spaceport in Florida. However, he did not provide precise numbers, nor exact design specifications that the Space Launch System rocket is designed to withstand. However, Free said that at no point was the rocket exposed to wind gusts above its design limits. This appears to check out, based on publicly available data. For example, the National Weather Service reported a maximum wind gust of 93 mph at an altitude of 200 feet at the rocket’s launch pad, which is close to, but not above, the rocket’s limit of 97 mph at that height (see full SLS design specifications for weather).
A preliminary inspection of the rocket on Thursday night and Friday night after the storm had passed revealed only some very minor issues, most of which had already been addressed by Friday afternoon when Free spoke to reporters during a teleconference. “We design it to be out there,” Free said of the rocket, noting Kennedy Space Center’s exposure to hurricanes on Florida’s Atlantic coast. “If we didn’t design it to be out there in harsh weather, we picked the wrong launch spot.”
Even so, NASA did not leave its rocket exposed to Nicole’s fury on Thursday by choice. The rocket’s engineering teams engaged in long meetings last Sunday, as it was becoming clear that Nicole posed a serious threat. If they had made the decision to roll the Artemis I stack back inside the protective Vehicle Assembly Building at that time, the operation would not have been complete until Wednesday.