NASA’s lunar rocket launch faces fresh threat with storm forecast

Artemis Moon Mission: The Artemis 3 crew must land on the Moon in 2025 at the earliest. (File)

Washington:

NASA’s historic unmanned mission to the Moon is facing new challenges.

After technical problems derailed two launch attempts several weeks ago, a new takeoff of the Artemis 1 mission, scheduled for Tuesday, is now threatened by a storm gathering in the Caribbean.

The storm, which has yet to be named, is currently south of the Dominican Republic.

But it’s expected to grow into a hurricane in the coming days and could move north to Florida, home to the Kennedy Space Center, where the rocket will launch.

“Our plan A is to stay on course and launch on September 27,” Mike Bolger, NASA’s director of ground exploration systems, told reporters on Friday. “But we realized that we also had to really pay attention and think about a plan B.”

That would mean pulling the giant Space Launch System rocket back into the Vehicle Assembly Building, known as the VAB.

“If we were to go to plan B, we would need a few days to reverse from our current refueling test or launch configuration to initiate a rollback and get back under the protection of the VAB,” Bolger said, adding that a decision should be made by early Saturday morning at the latest.

The orange-white SLS rocket on the launch pad can withstand wind gusts of up to 137 kilometers per hour. However, if you have to take cover, the current launch window, which runs until October 4, will be missed.

The next launch window lasts from October 17-31, with one launch opportunity per day, except for October 24-26 and October 28.

The successful Artemis 1 mission is a huge relief for the US space agency after years of delays and cost overruns. But another setback would be a blow to NASA after two previous launch attempts were aborted when the rocket experienced technical problems, including a fuel leak.

The launch dates depend on whether NASA receives a special waiver to avoid the need to retest the batteries in the emergency flight system, which is used to destroy the rocket if it strays from its designated range into a populated area.

On Tuesday, the launch window opens at 11:37 a.m. local time and lasts 70 minutes.

If the rocket lifts off that day, the mission will last 39 days before landing in the Pacific Ocean on November 5.

The Artemis 1 space mission hopes to test both the SLS and the unmanned Orion capsule on top in preparation for future manned trips to the Moon.

Dummies equipped with sensors stand in place of the astronauts on the mission and record acceleration, vibration and radiation levels.

The next mission, Artemis 2, will take astronauts into orbit around the moon without landing on the lunar surface.

The Artemis 3 crew must land on the moon in 2025 at the earliest.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published on a syndicated channel.)