Brian Cox outlines goals of NASA's Artemis 1 mission launch

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After days monitoring weather forecasts, NASA made the call to roll back yesterday, with the Artemis I Moon rocket departing Kennedy Space Center’s launch pad 39B at 11.21pm ET (4.21am BST). Carried atop its massive crawler–transporter, it is estimated that the four-mile journey from the pad to the vehicle assembly building could take anywhere from 6–12 hours. The wind speed ahead of Hurricane Ian will be a key factor — sustained winds need to be less than 40mph to make the trip safely.

A NASA spokesperson said: “Managers met Monday morning and made the decision based on the latest weather predictions associated with Hurricane Ian.

“Additional data gathered overnight did not show improving expected conditions for the Kennedy Space Center area.

“The decision allows time for employees to address the needs of their families and protect the integrated rocket and spacecraft system.

“NASA has continued to rely on the most up to date information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Space Force, and the National Hurricane Center throughout its evaluations and continues to closely monitor conditions for the Kennedy area.”

Forming from a depression over the Carribean Sea early last week, Tropical Storm Ian was reclassified yesterday as a Category 1 hurricane — meaning that it reached sustained wind speeds of 74–95 miles per hour.

Residents in Florida had already moved to batten down the proverbial hatches, with Governor Ron DeSantis having declared a state of emergency across the state on Sunday.

Ian is expected to make landfall over Florida’s Gulf Coast sometime either today or tomorrow. In a press conference, Mr DeSantis said: “Expect heavy rains, strong winds, flash flooding, storm surge and even isolated tornadoes.”

According to experts at AccuWeather, Hurricane Ian may well reach Category 4 status over the coming days, with sustained wind speeds of a whopping 130–156 miles per hour.

In contrast, NASA’s SLS rocket is only capable of withstanding wind speeds of up to 86 miles per hour while exposed on its launch pad.

The rollback of the rocket means that NASA will be unable to try for a lift-off during the next launch window on Sunday — which opens at 2.52pm EDT (7.52 BST).

Instead, the third launch attempt will now not be until mid–late October at the earliest, if not November.

The next launch window runs from October 17–31, with a take-off opportunity possible each day except for October 24–26 and 28.

In the following month there are 12 launch opportunities in the period spanning November 12–27.

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This week’s tumultuous weather adds to the delays to the Artemis I mission, with NASA having already made two attempts at getting the SLS off the ground — the first on August 29 and the second on September 3.

The initial launch attempt was scrubbed after it appeared one of the rocket’s four main engines was too hot during engine bleed tests.

This issue, however, was later traced to a misleading reading from a “bad sensor”.

A persistent leak in the liquid hydrogen fuel line, meanwhile, brought the second go to a halt, despite engineers trying three times to troubleshoot the problem.

Both of these issues were reexamined last week when NASA undertook a “cryogenic demonstration test”, which saw a practice tanking of the SLS’s core and interim stages with more than 730.000 gallons of liquid hydrogen fuel.

The space agency reported that “after encountering a hydrogen leak early in the loading process, engineers were able to troubleshoot the issue and proceed with the planned activities.”

These activities included revisiting the kick-start bleed test — in which a small amount of liquid hydrogen fuel is used to cool down the four RS-25 engines at the base of the rocket’s core stage to 423F (217C) — that threw up problems during the first launch attempt.

The purpose of this was to ensure that the engines are not unduly stressed when the supercool fuel is channelled into them properly at the time of launch.

Following the demo, NASA reported “all objectives [were] met” — leading to optimism that the SLS will be able to successfully launch on the next attempt. Exactly when that will be, however, remains to be seen.

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