Nasa delays Artemis Moon mission again as Hurricane Ian prepares to hit Florida

Nasa delays Artemis Moon mission again as Hurricane Ian prepares to hit Florida

Nasa is suspending its plans to launch the Artemis I Moon mission rocket on Tuesday as Hurricane Ian approaches Florida.

On Sunday, the space agency announced that it is continuing to closely monitor the weather forecast associated with Ian, which has strengthened and is likely to reach Florida as a major hurricane in the coming days.

The American space agency said it is conducting final preparations for rolling back the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft to the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Hurricane Ian, which was upgraded from a tropical storm early Monday, is expected to slam into the Gulf coast by Thursday, with President Joe Biden declaring a state of emergency in Florida.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis said on Sunday that he was widening the emergency declaration he had announced for 24 counties and was mobilising the state’s National Guard.

“It’s important to point out to folks that the path of this is still uncertain. The impacts will be broad throughout the state of Florida,” he said.

Nasa said the mission’s managers would meet again on Monday to allow for additional data gathering before making the decision on a rollback.

Nasa has already rescheduled the rocket’s launch twice.

The first attempted launch on 29 August was scrubbed after a problem was found with one of the rocket’s engines during fuelling operations.

“We don’t launch until it’s right,” Nasa administrator Bill Nelson said.

“It’s just illustrative that this is a very complicated machine, a very complicated system, and all those things have to work. You don’t want to light the candle until it’s ready to go,” he had said.

Then during another launch attempt in early September teams encountered an issue related to a leak in the hardware transferring fuel into the rocket, which they couldn’t fix, leading to a delay of more than a month.

Experts say the delay could jeapordise one of the missions piggybacking on SLS rocket to the Moon.

A payload of 10 shoebox-sized satellites, called CubeSats, are within the SLS for over a year due to numerous delays.

Operators say the batteries onboard these satellites, essential for unfolding solar panels, may not have sufficient power, when they reach the Moon eventually.

“The longer we wait, the higher the risk [of the batteries dying],” Ben Malphrus, who helps operate the Lunar IceCube CubeSat, had told Science.

A Sunday weather forecast indicated a slower moving and likely more westerly track of the tropical storm, suggesting there could be more time for decision-making, and for the agency’s employees to prioritise their families if the storm impacted the Kennedy Space Center area, Nasa said in a blog post.