With potential hurricane approaching, NASA leaves mega-rocket on launch pad

Just call it the Sad Launch System

NASA's plans to launch its Space Launch System (SLS) super rocket this November from the Kennedy Space Center may be foiled yet again if a tropical storm continues gaining strength on its predicted path toward Florida.

The American space agency is working with the US Space Force and the National Hurricane Center to monitor Subtropical Storm Nicole, which is forecast to hit Cape Canaveral in about 96 hours at time of writing. Staff are preparing to hunker down as surface winds could reach 58 mph (93 kph) on the Florida shoreline, according to the Space Launch Delta 45 unit of the Space Force. 

NASA appears to be keeping the 322-foot (98-metre) Space Launch System on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center for now. "Based on current forecast data, managers have determined the Space Launch System rocket and Orion will remain at Launch Pad 39B," it said in a statement on Monday. 

"Teams at Kennedy will continue to monitor the weather, make sure all personnel are safe, and will evaluate the status of the Monday, November 14, launch attempt for the Artemis I mission as we proceed and receive updated predictions about the weather," it added.

Meanwhile, Nicole is steadily intensifying and is forecast to hit the Sunshine State as a Category 1 Hurricane bringing high winds and heavy rainfall on Thursday. Accuweather said the storm is sustaining winds of 60 mph (97 kph) and is moving westwards toward the United States from the Bahamas as of midday Tuesday.

NASA's third attempt to launch its most powerful rocket yet from Earth could potentially be thwarted if Nicole forces officials to roll the heavy-launch vehicle back to the hangar for shelter, a process that usually takes around 10 hours.

A similar scenario unfolded in September, when NASA cancelled a launch attempt as Tropical Storm Ian was upgraded to hurricane status. The rocket was wheeled to the hangar to shelter from Ian, and stayed there over October as engineers worked to repair and replace batteries and other components.

Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis (R) has declared a state of emergency, and a hurricane warning has been issued for Nicole. The Register has asked NASA for further comment. 

If the rocket ever lifts off, as part of NASA's Artemis I mission, it'll be the vehicle's first-ever flight demonstration. The goal is confirm the SLS can successfully put an unmanned Orion crew capsule in orbit around the Moon, where the pod will stay for roughly 25 days before splashing back down to our planet's Pacific Ocean. Sometime in 2025 or later, perhaps even this decade, an Orion capsule atop an SLS is expected to carry the first woman and another man to the Moon. ®

Stop press

Just as we were about to publish this piece, NASA moved the intended launch of the SLS from November 14 to 16.

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