NASA's Artemis I mega moon rocket could face damaging winds as storm approaches

By Jackie Wattles, CNNUpdated: Tue, 08 Nov 2022 20:48:43 GMTSource: CNNThe NASA Space Launch System — the rocket that's at the core of the Artemis I moon mission — could face damaging winds from

By Jackie Wattles, CNN

Updated: Tue, 08 Nov 2022 20:48:43 GMT

Source: CNN

The NASA Space Launch System — the rocket that's at the core of the Artemis I moon mission — could face damaging winds from Tropical Storm Nicole, which is now expected to strengthen into a hurricane before it slams into Florida's East Coast.

The rocket, often referred to as SLS, is sitting on its launchpad at Kennedy Space Center, which lies just to the north of where the storm's center is expected to make landfall, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller noted. That will mean the area can expect some of the strongest winds the system will bring.

If it is a 75-mile-per-hour (120-kph) Category 1 hurricane, as it's predicted to be, gusts could range between 80 and 90 miles per hour (130 to 145 kph), according to Miller. That could mean the rocket will get battered by winds higher than the predetermined limits of what the rocket can withstand. Officials have said that SLS is designed to withstand gusts of up to 85 miles per hour (137 kph).

"Further, the National Weather Service in Melbourne, Florida, has forecasted max wind gusts occurring early Thursday morning of 86 miles per hour," Miller added. "So yes, this is absolutely possible that wind gusts exceed that threshold."

The National Hurricane Center's latest report also gives a 15% chance that Cocoa Beach, which lies about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of the launch site, will endure sustained hurricane-force winds.

Spokespeople at NASA did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

The space agency decided to roll the SLS rocket out to its launchpad last week, as the storm was still an unnamed system brewing off the East Coast. At the time, officials had been expecting this storm to bring in sustained winds of around 25 knots (29 miles per hour) with gusts of up to 40 knots (46 miles per hour), which was deemed to be well within the predetermined limits of what the rocket can withstand, according to comments from Mark Burger, a launch weather officer with the US Space Force's 45th Weather Squadron, at a NASA news conference on November 3.

"The National Hurricane Center just has a 30% chance of it becoming a named storm," Burger said last Thursday. "However, that being said, the models are very consistent on developing some sort of a low pressure."

But the storm did grow into a named system on Monday, three days after the rocket was rolled out to the launchpad.

In a Monday statement, NASA officials said when Nicole was still classified as a subtropical storm, the space agency was working with the National Hurricane Center and the US Space Force to monitor the storm.

"Based on current forecast data, managers have determined the Space Launch System rocket and Orion will remain at Launch Pad 39B," the space agency's statement read. "Teams at Kennedy will continue to monitor the weather, make sure all personnel are safe, and will evaluate the status of the Monday, Nov. 14, launch attempt for the Artemis I mission as we proceed and receive updated predictions about the weather."

The storm's strength is unusual, as Nicole is expected to be the first hurricane to strike the United States in November in nearly 40 years.

Kennedy Space Center announced on its Twitter feed Tuesday that it is "in a HURICON III status and continues to prep for the upcoming storm taking prudent precautions across all of our programs, activities, and workforce in advance of the storm."

The HURICON III preparations include "securing facilities, property and equipment" as well as deploying a rideout team, which is a staff that will be on hand to give the first assessment of damages after the storm passes.

The SLS rocket had been stowed away for weeks after issues with fuel leaks thwarted the first two launch attempts and then Hurricane Ian rolled through Florida, forcing the rocket to vacate the launchpad in September.

Officials at NASA returned the rocket to the launchpad last week with the goal of working toward a third launch attempt on November 14. It's not clear how or if the storm could impact those plans.

The overall goal of NASA's Artemis program is to return humans to the moon for the first time in half a century. And the Artemis I mission — expected to be the first of many — will lay the groundwork, testing the rocket and spacecraft and all their subsystems to ensure they are safe enough for astronauts to fly to the moon and back.