Hurricane Ian Disrupts NASA, Commercial Launches from Florida

Hurricane Ian Disrupts NASA, Commercial Launches from Florida

The launch of NASA’s Artemis I Moon rocket is not the only casualty of Hurricane Ian, which is bearing down on Florida at this very moment. NASA also is postponing the launch of Crew-5 to the International Space Station and the United Launch Alliance is delaying the launch of two commercial communications satellites for SES. The Crew-5 and SES launches are expected to slip just a couple of days, but NASA may wait until November to try the Artemis I launch again.

Hurricane Ian is forecast to hit the west coast of Florida with fury tomorrow, but it will affect all of the Florida peninsula including Cape Canaveral on the east coast. NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and the U.S. Space Force’s adjacent Cape Canaveral Space Force Station already are both at Hurricane Condition 3, HURCON III, a sign that sustained winds in excess of 50 knots are expected within 48 hours.

NASA KSC Director Janet Petro told reporters at a briefing this afternoon she anticipates moving to HURCON II — sustained winds in excess of 50 knots within 24 hours — tomorrow morning, but it could happen sooner. If needed, they will move to HURCON I if damaging winds are expected within 12 hours. Each step signals what preparatory activities are underway and who can remain on site. Right now they are identifying the “ride-out” team who will stay on base throughout the storm and secure facilities.

The Space Force’s Space Launch Delta 45 controls all launches from KSC and CCSFS — the Eastern Range. NASA has two launch pads at KSC, Launch Complex-39A (LC39-A) and Launch Complex-39B (LC-39B). CCSFS has several active launch pads including Space Launch Complex-41 (SLC-41) used by the United Launch Alliance (ULA) for the Atlas V rocket.

Launches from each of those pads were on the books over the next several days. NASA was looking at September 27 for the next try at the Artemis I launch from LC-39B, but on Saturday decided that was not likely because of the storm. October 2 was a backup date, but yesterday the agency decided to roll the 322-foot rocket and Orion spacecraft back to the safety of the Vehicle Assembly Building. It arrived there this morning and is safe and sound inside.


Artemis I Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft headed back to the Vehicle Assembly Building, September 26, 2022. Photo credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky
Artemis I about to enter the VAB, ~8:30 am ET, September 27, 2022. Screengrab.

NASA also is getting ready for a crew rotation on the International Space Station with the new Crew-5 scheduled to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on October 3 from LC-39A.  This afternoon NASA decided to postpone that launch until at least October 4, with additional delays possible depending on Ian. The return to Earth of Crew-4, which was expected on October 10, will slip day-by-day in concert with the launch.

Crew-5 (L-R): Anna Kikina (Roscosmos), Josh Cassada (NASA), Nicole Mann (NASA), Koichi Wakata (JAXA). Photo credit: NASA

ULA was planning to launch the two SES satellites, SES-20 and SES-21, on September 30 from SLC-41, but this afternoon delayed that to October 4.

The Crew-5 and ULA launches are being postponed only by days, but launching Artemis I is more complicated. Artemis I is a test launch of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft around the Moon. It can only launch during certain periods of time — windows — when the Earth, Moon and Sun are in the proper position relative to each other to meet test objectives, such as ensuring the Orion solar arrays get the right amount of power from the Sun and the spacecraft lands in daylight when it comes back to Earth.

NASA has a graphic showing when it can or cannot launch. Gray and red blocks mean they cannot launch, green means they can. The difference between light green and dark green is whether it is a short duration or long duration mission.

At the briefing today Jim Free, NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development, would not rule out launching in October, but said it would be “difficult” considering that it is already September 27 and people would not be fully focused on the mission until next week after the hurricane has passed. With SLS and Orion back at the VAB, engineers will have time to replace the Flight Termination System battery that was an issue earlier and assess other “life limited” items. Free said there are about 20 such items including batteries generally, hypergolics and “soft goods” on Orion’s Service Module, and items on the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage.

Speaking on CNN this morning, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said “We know the earliest it could go is late October, but more than likely we’ll go in the window in the middle of November.”

That window is November 12-27, but not November 23-24 or 26. (which is not affiliated with NASA) tweeted the exact times, although NASA declined to confirm them to

The opportunities early in that window would mean launching at night. Free said NASA prefers to launch in daylight, but will look at the pros and cons.

I think our preference is to launch in the daylight. I think we feel like the visuals that we get from our long-range tracking cameras are of benefit to us. We do have obviously some ways we can view the vehicle if we were to launch in the dark, I just think we’d look at the risk versus benefit trade. So our preference is probably a daylight launch, but we won’t rule out the nighttime launch either.

Shortly after Artemis I was secure inside the VAB this morning, a small fire broke out in an electrical panel forcing evacuation of the building. Petro said at the briefing it was a 40 volt electrical panel in High Bay 3 and Artemis I was “never at risk.” An investigation is underway. No one was injured.

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