Will Nicole impact NASA's latest Artemis I launch attempt? SLS and Orion to remain at KSC launchpad

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – This hurricane season has not been kind to NASA's mega moon rocket as the space agency attempts to launch the Artemis 1 mission around the moon.

About a month after moving the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft back into the Vehicle Assembly Building hangar due to Hurricane Ian, the 322-foot-tall launch vehicle arrived back at the Kennedy Space Center launchpad on Nov. 4. Still, another tropical system could thwart the next launch attempt.

NASA was targeting Nov. 14 to launch the SLS and Orion without astronauts on the Artemis 1 test flight around the moon and back. Ahead of Nicole's arrival, the space agency announced it would delay the launch attempt to Nov. 16.

This will be the third try in four months. Two launches ended in scrubs due to technical issues.

The FOX Forecast Center is tracking Tropical Storm Nicole in the Atlantic Ocean, aiming for Florida's east coast.

Nicole is forecast to strengthen to a Category 1 hurricane before making landfall Wednesday night or early Thursday. Regardless of its hurricane status, the FOX Forecast Center predicts the system will bring widespread wind, flooding and rain to Florida's east coast and the Eastern Seaboard.

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NASA managers work with the Space Force's 45th Weather Squadron launch officers to determine if the SLS and Orion should remain on launchpad 39B through the worst of Nicole's impacts. A decision NASA leadership was also forced to make before Hurricane Ian's landfall in September.

A NASA spokesperson told FOX Weather that based on the forecast, SLS and Orion will remain at the launchpad and not be moved back into the VAB.

"Based on current forecast data, managers have determined the Space Launch System rocket and Orion will remain at Launch Pad 39B," the spokesperson said. "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."

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Kennedy Space Center staff are making preparations for the incoming storm. Under HURCON III status, the Center is preparing for 50-knot sustained winds within 48 hours.

Space Launch Delta 45 entered HURCON III in preparation for Nicole, which means teams expect 58 mph sustained winds at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station within 48 hours. The Space Force Station neighbors Kennedy Space Center where SLS is verticle on the launchpad.

If NASA moves ahead with the launch Monday, teams will need to begin fueling the moon rocket with more than 700,000 gallons of cryogenic fuel Sunday afternoon for the 12:07 a.m. liftoff Monday.

If Artemis 1 does not launch on Nov. 16, there is a backup opportunity on Nov. 19 at 1:45 a.m.

Florida's wind forecast through Friday.
Florida's wind forecast through Friday.

According to the FOX Forecast Center, Tropical Storm Nicole will approach the east coast of Florida making landfall on Wednesday night or early Thursday.

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Nicole is forecast to strengthen along its path gradually and is expected to become a Category 1 hurricane by Wednesday while it is moving near or over the northwestern Bahamas. By late Wednesday and into Thursday, the worst impacts from Nicole will arrive at Florida's east coast, including Brevard County, home to Kennedy Space Center.

Southern Brevard County barrier islands are under a Hurricane Warning, meaning Hurricane-force winds are expected somewhere within the area. The National Hurricane Center issues Hurricane Warnings 36 hours before the most likely arrival of tropical-storm-force winds.

Florida's Atlantic beaches are forecast to have high surf up to 12 feet on Thursday. Wave height won't impact launch operations at KSC, but winds and damage from storm debris could.

Wind gusts up to 50 mph are forecast for Wednesday evening on the Space Coast. The current forecast is within the margin NASA's SLS rocket is certified to withstand.

The SLS can remain at the launchpad with peak winds up to 74.1 knots (85 mph) at 60 feet up, NASA's SLS chief engineer John Blevins told reporters ahead of Hurricane Ian.

If the rocket is on the move to or from the VAB it can roll out under 40-knot sustained winds.

Florida wave forecast on Thursday from Nicole impacts.
Florida wave forecast on Thursday from Nicole impacts.

Widespread impacts could include prolonged periods of coastal flooding, high winds, heavy rainfall, life-threatening surf and rip currents and beach erosion likely along the Florida east coast.

After the worst of Nicole's impacts passes, engineers will need to inspect SLS, Orion and the launch facility for any damages. Depending on how long that process takes and any damages will determine if the moon rocket leaves Earth for the first time next week.