NASA moves forward with Artemis 1 launch attempt on November 16

WASHINGTON — NASA is moving forward with the next Artemis 1 launch attempt on Nov. 16 after finding no major repairs needed to the Space Launch System and Orion from Hurricane Nicole.

In a call with reporters Nov. 11, Jim Free, NASA’s associate administrator for exploration systems development, said technicians were working on minor issues caused by the storm’s passage a day earlier. , but nothing that can’t be fixed in time for the current launch date. November 16 during a two-hour window that opens at 1:04 a.m. Eastern Time.

“For now, nothing prevents us from reaching the 16th,” he said. “We have work to do.”

That work, he said, includes removing a loose sealant, known as RTV, on Orion’s launch abort system that isn’t needed for flight. A rain cover in an SLS engine has been torn and is being repaired, while water that has collected in the crew access arm has been removed. An umbilical leading from the launch tower to Orion broke off a tray and was replaced.

He added that a tail service mast unit that supplies liquid hydrogen to the SLS had an electrical umbilical that had “some erratic signals”, which was being inspected. This wiring harness could be replaced if necessary.

Free spent much of the call explaining and defending the agency’s decision to leave SLS out. He said there was a long discussion about the forecast before deciding to deploy to the pad on November 4. “There were people who were really thinking about it” about the deployment, he recalls. “At the end of the day, everyone was on board for us to deploy.”

By the time forecasts showed the storm had strengthened, it was too late to return to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). During the Nov. 6 talks, he said, the earliest the vehicle could roll back was late Nov. 8. “The wind speed was then forecast at 35 knots. [65 km/h] sustained bursts up to 40 [74 km/h]he said, raising concerns about the loads on the vehicle as he returned to the VAB. “With the risk of moving with the strong winds, we decided to stay at the pad.”

The winds finally remained just below the certification limits for the SLS. At the 18-meter level, NASA reported a fair peak of 132 kilometers per hour, just below the nominal limit of 137 kilometers per hour.

Free said NASA also measured winds at other levels of the platform, including the tops of the Lightning Towers, 140 meters high. “During the hurricane, all measurements taken showed no exceedances of these limits,” he said.

Free declined to give wind limits at other levels of the vehicle, citing concerns related to International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), a category of export controls. “It’s how we do the calculations and on the design of the vehicle,” he argued. “You can piece together some of that and come to conclusions that would violate that.”

However, NASA has already published wind limits for the SLS, notably in an October 2021 document available on a NASA website with a notice that it is “approved for public release; distribution is unlimited. This shows that the wind limits increase with height at the pad, reaching the level of 150 meters at 172 kilometers per hour. The maximum reported gust of wind during the storm was around 160 kilometers per hour at an altitude of 142 meters

The wind limits, he added, were conservative. “That’s 75% of what we can take, which means we still have 25% more margin before we even reach our 1.4 safety factor,” he said. “From our perspective, we stayed within our certification to the wind we saw during the hurricane.”

He acknowledged that NASA likely would have kept the SLS in the VAB if it had known before the Nov. 4 deployment how Hurricane Nicole would develop. “If we had known the day before our deployment that it was going to be a hurricane, we probably would have stayed in the VAB.”

Keeping the vehicle on the pad, however, preserves the November 16 launch attempt as well as a save date of November 19. Free said NASA had also secured an additional launch date of Nov. 25, the latest available in the current launch. period, from the Federal Aviation Administration.

He said he wasn’t nervous about having SLS on the pad during the storm, at least not any more than he usually is about the vehicle before its first launch. “I’m worried about this rocket if it was bright and sunny all the time because it’s our first, and our flight test has absolutely critical goals that are going to be difficult to achieve,” he said. “So I’m gonna worry about this rocket until we see this [Orion] capsule safely in the well deck of the Navy ship.

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