The managers of Launch Pad 39B have determined that the Space Launch System rocket and Orion will remain at this site.
Large and costly space rockets are volatile and require extensive safety measures. Additionally, tropical cyclones are of particular concern due to the potential winds created by a tropical cyclone that can damage equipment.
While the launcher has a strong frame and solid rocket boosters, there are sensitive components that might be damaged from debris and wear while exposed to high winds in the tropics.
Therefore, Hurricane becomes a hurdle in the launch timeline of NASA’s already delayed mission.
According to John Blevins, Chief Engineer of SLS Aerospace, the rocket can withstand gusts up to 74.1 knots. The term “knot” is used in meteorology and maritime navigation and is equal to 1 nautical mile per hour.
In this case, the rocket can withstand gusts up to 85 mph (137 km/h). A “gust” refers to short-term burst winds as opposed to sustained winds for one minute or longer.
NASA is concerned with the potential for this storm to evolve into a threat. Precipitation has already increased, and gusts of wind have already reached up to 74 miles per hour.
The National Hurricane Center forecasts that Nicole will transition from a subtropical into a tropical storm and create landfall in Florida near Kennedy Space Center as a Category 1 hurricane.
Ten percent of the chances are now up to hurricane forces—at or above the safety limits established by NASA for its rockets. This is higher than the forecast that prompted a rollback during Ian.
The odds of hurricane-force winds have increased significantly, leaving a 10% chance that a rollback will now take place.
There is a relatively low chance that the storm poses a risk to the rocket and spacecraft, but there are still some reasons for concern. Moreover, NASA does not have any hardware ready to replace this project.
If further delays continue, NASA will continue to be embarrassed and calls for pivoting towards more efficient, less expensive vehicles by private industry.
There are also difficulties with predicting wind speed at various heights throughout the tropics. The National Hurricane Center shows winds at the surface, but the rocket stands much taller than the 60-foot level in relation to its base.
The mobile launcher deck, including the rocket and Orion spacecraft, stands 322 feet high.
One possibility can be that NASA didn’t have enough time to move the rocket inside the protective confines of the Vehicle Assembly Building. It takes a couple of days to prep a rocket, and there may not have been any on-site around Monday when Nicole arrived.
There could be no other option than to remain at the pad until Tuesday night.