NASA’s moon rocket begins rollout to launch pad after taking cover from Hurricane Ian

Agency still aims for early morning Nov. 14 launch

MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. – The Space Launch System rocket that NASA plans to use for the Artemis I moon mission began another rollout late Thursday to Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39B.

The rocket was scheduled to leave the Vehicle Assembly Building at 12:01 a.m. Friday, yet got going ahead of schedule at 11:16 p.m. Thursday, according to NASA Exploration Ground Systems. The configuration had been in the VAB since the end of September due to Hurricane Ian.

Agency officials held a teleconference Thursday announcing the SLS and Orion capsule were ready for rollout, adding the configuration survived Ian fine and signaling their intent to go ahead with a launch attempt on Nov. 14.

During the teleconference, Jim Free, associate administrator with NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate at the agency’s DC headquarters, described what he and other Artemis mission managers were looking at in the short term, as well as some of what the long term has so far taught them.

“We just finished a call just under an hour ago where we were thinking about this storm that we’re keeping an eye on that’s heading toward Florida. (We) understand the impacts that might have on the vehicle and we needed to think through some things and came to the decision that we’re going to go ahead and rollout (Thursday) evening in advance of our Nov. 14 launch attempt,” Free said. “... we learned a lot after our tanking tests, you heard some of that as we learned a lot about that pressure balance across our quick disconnect and how to manage the supply pressure to get the optimal performance that we have. So we’re looking forward to that attempt on the 14th, seven minutes after midnight.”

The weather event referenced was a potential disturbance south of Puerto Rico that is expected to slowly move north toward the U.S. during the next week.

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New batteries were installed earlier in October for the rocket’s Flight Termination System (FTS), batteries with a procedural usage period that led to logistical problems between NASA and the U.S. Space Force after a series of skipped launch attempts outlasted the previous window of opportunity and necessitated their replacement. The batteries in the core stage FTS are now certified until the January timeframe and those in the boosters are certified until the February timeframe, officials said.

The agency had originally prepared for rollout as soon as Friday. In an update a week prior, NASA said minor repairs to the rocket were mostly completed.

NASA is targeting a 69-minute launch window that opens at 12:07 a.m. Nov. 14, details which remained consistent after Thursday’s update. Backup launch attempts are set for Nov. 16 at 1:04 a.m. and Nov. 19 at 1:45 a.m., the officials said.

According to Free, mission managers are confident not only in an eventually successful launch attempt for Artemis I, but also for further missions.

“Everybody asks ‘Are you confident in going after a launch attempt?’ If we weren’t confident, we wouldn’t rollout. If we weren’t confident, we wouldn’t start the countdown when we do,” Free said. “So, yeah, we’re confident moving forward.”

The Artemis program is the long-awaited NASA program to take Americans back to the moon and possibly to Mars. The uncrewed first mission will see the Orion spacecraft circle the moon before returning to Earth.

If the first mission is successful, it will be followed by Artemis II, a crewed test mission that will also orbit the moon. If that mission is successful, Artemis III’s goal will be to land on the moon. NASA said Artemis I will take up to 14 days to get to the moon.

See our previous coverage of this story in the video player below:

According to the space agency, the rocket is scheduled to roll out to the pad on Friday, Nov. 4 at 12:01 a.m.

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About the Author:

Brandon, a UCF grad, joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021. Before joining News 6, Brandon worked at WDBO.