Mon. Dec 5th, 2022

NASA remained on track for Wednesday’s planned new moon launch of its rocket after determining that hurricane damage posed little additional risk to the test flight.

Hurricane Nicole’s strong winds caused a 3-meter section of the seal near the crew capsule on top of the rocket to peel off last Thursday. The material separated into small pieces rather than one large strip, mission manager Mike Sarafin said.

“We’re comfortable flying it the way it is,” Sarafin told reporters Monday night, based on experience flying the material.

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Liftoff is scheduled for early Wednesday morning from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, with test dummies instead of astronauts. This is the first test flight for the 322-foot (98-meter) rocket, the most powerful ever built by NASA, and will attempt to send a capsule into lunar orbit.

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The nearly monthly $4 billion mission has been grounded since August due to a fuel leak and Hurricane Ian, which forced the rocket back into its hangar for shelter in late September. The rocket stayed on the pad for Nicole; managers said there wasn’t enough time to move after it became clear the storm would be stronger than expected.

Sarafin acknowledged Monday night that there was a “slight possibility” more of the flexible, lightweight sealing could fall off during liftoff. The most likely place to be hit would be a particularly large and robust part of the rocket, he noted, resulting in minimal damage.

Click to play video: 'Royal Astronomical Society of Canada considers latest Artemis 1 launch delay.'

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada comments on the latest Artemis 1 launch delay.

Engineers have never determined what caused the dangerous hydrogen fuel leak during two late summer launch attempts. But the launch team is confident that slowing the flow will put less pressure on the sensitive fuel line seals and keep any leaks within acceptable limits, said Jeremy Parsons, deputy program manager.

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The space agency plans to send astronauts around the moon in 2024 and land a crew on the lunar surface in 2025.

Astronauts last visited the moon in December 1972, ending the Apollo program.

Meanwhile, NASA’s microwave-sized satellite arrived in a special lunar orbit on Sunday after a summer liftoff from New Zealand. This elongated orbit, stretching as far as tens of thousands of miles (kilometers), is where the space agency plans to build a repository for lunar crews. The transit station, known as Gateway, will serve astronauts to go to and from the lunar surface.

The satellite, named Capstone, will spend six months testing the navigation system in this orbit.

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