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After conducting an important test for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocker earlier this week, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) officials are eager to launch the Artemis 1 mission next week if the weather permits. Agency officials shared their updates from the test on Wednesday that saw them load the rocket up with fuel and oxidizer to test a leak that had prevented liftoff in a launch attempt earlier this month. The test was successful, and NASA engineers remain hopeful of a launch on Tuesday. The biggest concern at the moment is weather constraints, which might lead the agency to roll back the rocket back to its assembly building if the wind speeds in the surrounding area pass certain thresholds.
Weather Dominates Potential Artemis 1 Launch On Tuesday
The conversation, which was interrupted due to technical problems, revolved around weather forecasts for Tuesday and the nature of the leak that engineers still had to face on Wednesday. Right now, NASA teams are hopeful that conditions might be favorable for liftoff next week; however, they will meet again later today to further evaluate the weather.
A weather forecast issued by the Space Force earlier today put the probability of violating weather constraints at 80%. A key concern for NASA is whether it will have to transport the rocket back to its assembly building. These moves are taxing on the vehicle and require time, which limits the dates on which the rocket can launch. The space agency is currently keeping October 2nd as a backup launch attempt should the weather prove unfavorable for Tuesday.
The Space Force's launch weather forecast noted that:
As Hurricane Fiona races northward, a trailing band of convergence between Fiona and an upper-level trough settles southward into Florida today. This ‘back-door front’ will push through the Space Coast late this afternoon, producing some isolated showers and bringing gusty northeasterly winds. The boundary should continue south of the Spaceport Saturday as high pressure builds in, allowing winds to diminish. On Sunday, the boundary will push back northward ahead of a likely strengthening tropical system in the western Caribbean, gradually shifting shower activity closer to the Spaceport. The weather begins to further deteriorate Monday into Tuesday, as a possible hurricane shifts into the northwest Caribbean Sea. The official forecast from the National Hurricane Center tracks the possible hurricane over western Cuba early Tuesday, with the storm entering the eastern gulf near the Florida Keys mid-day Tuesday. Deep tropical moisture will spill across the Spaceport Tuesday, with widespread cloud cover and scattered showers likely during the launch window. As a result, our primary concerns will be the Cumulus Cloud Rule, Surface Electric Fields Rule, and the Flight Through Precipitation constraint.
For the SLS to remain at the launch pad, the lightning forecast within 20 nautical miles of the pad has to be less than 10%, the chance for hail has to be less than 5%, and the temperature has to be lower than 40 degrees celsius and peak winds have to be lower than 40 knots. For launch, peak liftoff winds at 133 feet have to be less than 39 knots, and those with 458 feet have to be less than 39 knots.
A rollback to the assembly building should not affect the fixes made to the rocket to stop its fuel leaks. The seals will stay in their position, which is not a concern. Should the rocket go back to the building, then its flight termination system's batteries will be recharged, among other changes.
This system is another key constraint, as it has to be certified as safe and functional before the Space Force before a rocket can launch. On this front, the rocket is good to go, as the range officials have approved it for a Tuesday launch.