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Hurricane Ian Pushes NASA's Next Moon Rocket Launch Attempt to November

Kennedy Space Center and SLS emerged unscathed, but the storm upset NASA’s plan to fly the Artemis 1 mission in October.

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The SLS rocket (far right) arriving at the Vehicle Assembly Building on the morning of Tuesday, September 27.
The SLS rocket (far right) arriving at the Vehicle Assembly Building on the morning of Tuesday, September 27.
Photo: NASA

At first it was technical hurdles, but now a natural disaster has forced a delay to NASA’s Artemis 1 mission. With the rocket tucked inside the space agency’s gigantic assembly building and with normal ground operations set to resume this week, Space Launch System won’t take flight until November 12 at the earliest.

Hurricane Ian laid waste to much of Florida last week, resulting in the loss of life, widespread power outages, and property damage on an unfathomable scale. After hemming and hawing over whether to shelter the 321-foot-tall (98-meter) rocket from the storm, NASA finally decided to roll SLS back to the Vehicle Assembly Building with just hours to spare.


Frighteningly, Kennedy Space Center took a direct hit from the hurricane, with the facility entering into HURCON I status at 6:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday. A portmanteau for “hurricane condition,” HURCON is an alert scale that triggers specific actions for an incoming hurricane. HURCON I, the highest possible status, gets triggered 12 hours prior to the arrival of 58 mile-per-hour (93 kilometer-per-hour) sustained winds. During HURCON I, Kennedy Space Center is closed, all perimeter gates are closed, and the Rideout Team (ROT) takes shelter at designated locations (non-ROT personnel are released during HURCON II).

Thankfully, the facility emerged unscathed. “There was no damage to Artemis flight hardware, and facilities are in good shape with only minor water intrusion identified in a few locations,” NASA wrote in a press release. The next step will be for ground teams to extend the access platforms around the rocket and the Orion spacecraft to allow for additional inspections and maintenance tasks, which will include the retesting and resetting of the rocket’s flight termination system.


At a briefing held on September 27, Jim Free, NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development, wouldn’t rule out the possibility of launching SLS in October, but he warned that it would be “difficult” given that it was already late in the month and that the hurricane was likely to disrupt preparations. A launch period existed from October 17 to 31, but NASA has now officially ruled this out, saying its third launch attempt of SLS won’t happen until November.

“Focusing efforts on the November launch period allows time for employees at Kennedy to address the needs of their families and homes after the storm and for teams to identify additional checkouts needed before returning to the pad for launch,” according to NASA.

The Artemis 1 mission is an attempt to send an uncrewed Orion capsule on a journey to the Moon and back. It will set the stage for more ambitious missions as NASA seeks a sustained return to the Moon.

After scrubs on August 29 and September 3 (both due to technical issues), and having performed a successful tanking test on September 21, NASA had targeted a third launch attempt on September 27. The pending arrival of Hurricane Ian forced a postponement and a rollback to the VAB, with the rocket reaching the cavernous garage on September 27 at 9:15 a.m. ET. Some 33 hours later, HURCON I was declared at Kennedy.


NASA says it will announce a specific launch date in the coming days, but it’s likely to fall within a launch period that runs from November 12 and 27, with no opportunities on November 20, 21, or 26. Failing this, NASA could try again during a launch period that runs from December 9 to 23.