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SLS rides out hurricane; engineers now assessing damage

NASA’s SLS rocket has apparently successfully survived on the launchpad the hurricane-force winds from Nicole, though engineers will need to inspect the rocket to see if there is any less obvious damage that might delay the now scheduled November 16th launch.

With blastoff on a long-delayed maiden flight on tap next week, sensors at pad 39B recorded gusts as high as 100 mph atop a 467-foot-tall lightning tower near the rocket. But winds at the 60-foot-level, which are part of the booster’s structural certification, peaked at 82 mph, just below the 85 mph limit.

The observed winds were “within the rocket’s capability,” said Jim Free, manager of exploration systems at NASA headquarters. “We anticipate clearing the vehicle for those conditions shortly.”

“Our team is conducting initial visual check outs of the rocket, spacecraft and ground system equipment with the cameras at the launch pad,” he tweeted. “Camera inspections show very minor damage such as loose caulk and tears in weather coverings. The team will conduct additional on-site walk down inspections of the vehicle soon.”

If no issues are found, the countdown will begin on November 14th.

Conscious Choice cover

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Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


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All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


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  • Ray Van Dune

    “But winds at the 60-foot-level, which are part of the booster’s structural certification, peaked at 82 mph, just below the 85 mph limit.”

    Cutting it pretty close for the sake of meeting an arbitrary date. I would think their priority would be a successful flight, rather than a date or beating Starship to first launch. If the first SLS flight fails, there won’t be another for a long time. “Never” is a long time, too.

  • John

    It’s fine, kick the tires and light the fires!

    The 85 mph limit is likely just procedural the engineering numbers have safety factor.

  • pzatchok

    NASA is not Star Treks Scotty, They do not put in a 15% fudge factor for safety.

  • Scotty would have had that thing in the air by now.

  • Edward

    pzatchok wrote: “They [NASA] do not put in a 15% fudge factor for safety.

    Actually, they do. In addition, even though the winds did not exceed the limits, NASA’s engineers are checking for damage that should not be there.

    SLS has not yet launched because NASA is serious about the safety of the hardware. They haven’t launched yet precisely because of their priority for a successful flight.

    The problem that I think is most serious about the SLS launch is that SpaceX seems to be delaying its own flight tests of Starship in order to avoid embarrassing NASA. This also delays the portion of commercial use of space that we expect to be ushered in by Starship. If only the government ego did not get in the way of commercial progress, we could be making important progress in space.

  • Ray Van Dune

    I doubt that SpaceX is slow-walking their preflight tests. They have a huge challenge with a 33-engine first stage, with not only new engines but a new type of ground-based engine start technology. Not to mention that they could lose a lot of infrastructure in a RUD situation. I think NASA is pushing rather hard myself – they don’t have multiple boosters ready to go like SpaceX does!

  • Doubting Thomas

    I continue to think that SpaceX was unwise, at this stage of development, to essentially collocate their launch and landing infrastructure so close together. I understand that no part is cheaper than some part and that the weight saved in landing legs is significant. But, hmmmm.

    By all means, if you are that confident, build the tower and chopsticks for snagging. But maybe a crane and a transporter to get the pieces back to and on top of the launch platform until you have proven out the system might be reasonable. Once proven out, you can equip the first launch platform tower with chopsticks and then have two launch / recovery systems online for more operational type launches.

  • Edward

    Ray Van Dune wrote: “I doubt that SpaceX is slow-walking their preflight tests.

    Maybe, but my observations have drawn me to a different hypothesis. Every time SLS is delayed Starship gets delayed to a launch just after SLS’s planned launch. When SLS slipped to November, Starship slipped to late November or later.

    There was a time when people talked of a race between SLS and Starship for which would launch first, but that hasn’t been heard for a while. Even the general public understands that SpaceX is reluctant to embarrass NASA by attempting an orbital launch first.

    SpaceX once had plans to launch a version using Merlin engines, but that idea was scrapped when SLS slipped its schedule into spring or summer. At that time SpaceX announced its first Starship would use Raptor engines. The number of engines is hardly a problem, as SpaceX routinely starts 27 on its operational Falcon Heavy and had plans for starting 32 Merlins on Super Heavy #4. We already know that SpaceX can start Raptor engines. They have done it many times. Starship can light its Raptors in the current way and can hold off on any new ground-based engine start technology until a later test launch. Unlike SLS, Starship’s first launch will not have a completely developed end-to-end flight of operational methodologies. Its first launch will still be testing methods and technologies for iteration on future flights. Starship is still in development phase, but SLS is not and is intended to be operational on its next flight, which is planned to be manned.

    What had been rapid development from 2017 through the first third of 2021 has slowed down precipitously over the past eighteen months. SpaceX’s development philosophy appears to have made a dramatic change, now that SLS’s scheduled first flight keeps slipping past Starship’s planned first flight.

    The time between Starship tests keeps getting longer and longer. Either they are running out of tests to perform or they have really big problems coming out of each test. There have been few indications of the latter.

    In the past, SpaceX showed no hesitation to use existing technology to enable them to test and develop future technology, but they are doing less of that now for no discernible reason other than postponement for SLS to launch first. These are some of the reasons that I think that SpaceX is not moving as fast as they would have if SLS had launched in the fall of last year.

    If SpaceX is delaying because they fear a launch pad RUD (rapid unscheduled disassembly, or rocket explosion) then I think we will never see Starship launch. There can never be a guarantee that even an operational rocket won’t explode and burn on the launch pad, as SpaceX is all too aware. A RUD did not worry SpaceX when they planned a first launch for shortly after SLS’s planned September launch, and there is no more reason for them to worry about one now than they did then. How worried about a RUD could SpaceX be, since they want to catch Super Heavy with the precious tower, potentially losing a lot of infrastructure in a RUD situation.

    In addition, a year ago the FAA slow-walked their approval of the use of Boca Chica for Starship orbital launches, and this year NASA changed its mind about allowing the use of the previously agreed-to Starship launch pad at the 39A launch site in Florida. The government is throwing around its weight, especially when a few days ago the president threatened to begin an investigation of Elon Musk merely because he did not like something that Musk said. Under this new governance regime, freedom in America seems to be lost for those who do not toe The Party line.* The government has been putting roadblocks in SpaceX’s way for at least a year, and now it has explicitly and directly threatened SpaceX’s founder, chief engineer, and majority owner. We definitely have a government that gets angry when We the People get our way at the government’s expense.

    A year ago, Elon Musk had noted the urgency to get Starship flying and operational so that SpaceX could start launching the second generation of Starlink satellites. It sounded like they needed to be launching these satellites by the end of this year or early next year. They only have a couple of years left in order to get several thousand Starlink satellites on orbit or they may lose their FCC license to operate them, and it appears certain that if SpaceX embarrasses the government, Starlink will not get an extension if they miss the deadline. Since there don’t seem to be technical problems; there must be a different reason for delaying Starship’s urgently needed first orbital launch.

    To make up for the lack of Starship launches available to put Starlinks into orbit, SpaceX has proposed a hundred Falcon launches next year. Rather than Falcon becoming closer to obsolescence, it is becoming used even more often, costing Starlink more in schedule and money than had been planned. This many Falcon launches may make Robert’s annual launch report look like progress is being made in launch services, but the truth is that delays with Starship are a lack of progress. Even delays with SLS show difficulties with the ability of America to make progress in launch systems and in space.

    The U.S. government has hobbled NASA’s ability to make progress in space, and now that SpaceX has replaced NASA as the forefront of technological advancement, while NASA regresses half a century, the U.S. government once again hobbles the ability to make progress in space.

    * Once, in America, the government investigated crimes and searched for perpetrators, as we would expect in a free country. These days, in America, the government investigates its enemies, such as a president who is not favored by The Party, and searches for crimes to hang them on, as we would expect in a tyrannical country. From Michigan, we know that the government is willing to entrap, maybe even frame, through the once-respected FBI, innocent people into imprisonable crimes. Fear reigns supreme in today’s America. Fear that the climate may change, fear of disease, fear of your neighbor and the busybody (Karen) standing next to you, and fear of angering the government. NASA may have regressed half a century, but America is rapidly regressing a quarter millennium.

    Welcome to Obama’s fundamentally transformed America, land of the formerly free.

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