KIHEI, Hawaii — NASA will wait until at least mid-November before attempting another launch of the Space Launch System on the Artemis 1 mission, citing the effects of Hurricane Ian.
NASA announced late on September 30 that inspections of Kennedy Space Center facilities after the storm passed a day earlier found no evidence of damage to the SLS or Orion spacecraft, which had returned to the Vehicle Assembly Building on September 27 as a precaution.
NASA reported no significant damage to KSC facilities from the storm, as did the US space force at the nearby Cape Canaveral space station. Launch operations resume this week with an Atlas 5 launch of two SES communications satellites scheduled for October 4 and a Falcon 9 launch of the Crew-5 commercial crew mission on October 5.
However, NASA said it has ruled out attempting to launch the Artemis 1 mission during the next launch period, which opens on October 17 and runs through October 31. Instead, it will focus on the next launch window, which starts in November. 12 to 27.
“Focusing efforts on the November launch period gives Kennedy workers time to address the needs of their families and homes after the storm and for teams to identify additional funds needed before returning to the launch pad,” NASA said in the announcement.
An October launch, even under the best of circumstances, would be difficult. Workers will need time to perform maintenance on the vehicles, including refurbishing the SLS flight termination system. Agency officials previously estimated it would take about a week and a half after launch on the pad to be ready for a launch attempt, giving technicians just a few weeks to complete work to be ready for a launch attempt in late October.
“I don’t think we’re going to take anything off the table,” Jim Free, NASA’s associate administrator for exploration systems development, said on a Sept. 27 call with reporters when asked if an October launch was possible. However, he admitted, given the time available, “getting back on the board and trying to get there can be a challenge.”
NASA, in the Sept. 30 statement, did not say when during the November launch period it might be ready to attempt a launch. “In the coming days, managers will assess the scope of work they must perform while on VAB and determine a specific date for the next launch attempt,” the agency said.
One issue for the November release is that, unlike the launch opportunities in August and September, many of the windows on individual days are at night. Launch windows from November 12-19 range from nearly midnight to 1:45am. east. November 22-27 launch windows are morning to noon.
“Our preference is for a daylight launch,” Free said at the Sept. 27 briefing, due to improved tracking of the rocket during a launch day. However, he would not rule out a night launch for the first SLS mission. “I think we’re looking at the risk versus reward trade-offs” for opening night, he said.
“Our preference is probably a daylight launch, but we wouldn’t rule out a night launch,” Free added.