This story has been updated with new information.
NASA’s launch of an uncrewed spacecraft will have to wait a bit longer. Hours ahead of the planned second launch attempt for Artemis I today, officials with the agency announced the mission had been postponed due to a problem transferring fuel to the rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
This postponement of NASA’s second try for this launch comes as hundreds of thousands of travelers had prepared to descend on Florida’s Space Coast, as Labor Day weekend coincided with what was supposed to be a historic launch.
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Officials plan to meet Saturday afternoon to determine the date for the next launch attempt, but NASA leaders said depending on the severity of the problem it could be as late as mid-October before another attempt.
When the launch does occur, it will be the first of what NASA hopes will be continued, future lunar exploration as part of the Artemis program including potential manned missions to the moon. That means, whether it’s this eventual launch or subsequent ones as part of the Artemis program, you might want to start thinking about how you could catch one in the future.
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Saturday’s scrubbed launch plans
The two-hour window for NASA’s latest launch attempt for Artemis I was originally scheduled to start at 2:17 p.m. on Saturday.
The preparations hit a bit of a snag first thing in the morning, though, as crews worked to deal with a leak while flowing liquid hydrogen to the ship. Within an hour, NASA reported the filling had resumed.
As the preparations continued, though, NASA reported another leak in the hardware that transfers fuel to the main rocket. Unable to resolve the issue in time for Saturday’s launch, officials announced the launch would be scrubbed for a second time.
“We will go when it’s ready,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said, noting the importance of perfecting this uncrewed mission before the agency even considers putting four astronauts on board for future launches. “This is part of the space business,” he added.
NASA is billing the eventual launch of Artemis I as the first in a “series of increasingly complex missions,” beginning with this uncrewed flight to pave the way for human deep space exploration. Once successful, the spacecraft will travel 280,000 miles away from earth on this mission, flying around the moon and back over the course of about three weeks.
The Orion spacecraft will be in space longer than any manned ship has previously been without docking to a space station.
In a word of caution that doubled as a reminder of the historic nature of this launch, emergency management officials in the region warned that noise from the launch may be louder and last longer than usual for people on the ground — many of whom have grown accustomed to the rumble of launches from Cape Canaveral over the years.
News of the postponement is sure to be a disappointment for a large number of tourists who seized on the holiday weekend as an opportunity to catch the launch up close.
With Labor Day crowds already expected to pack beaches along the Florida coast, emergency management officials had projected some 200,000 spectators — or potentially more — were likely to show up for Saturday’s spaceship launch.
When liftoff is rescheduled and finally occurs, there are a number of logistical elements that must be handled with precision from managing tourists to air and cruise traffic.
The busy Florida cruise port of Port Canaveral sits less than 20 miles from Kennedy Space Center.
A homeport for several major cruise lines, when you combine the traffic from cruise passengers and spectators there to watch a rocket launch, things can get busy and logistically complicated. For instance, Saturday’s plans had called for four ships to be in the port just as hundreds of thousands of spectators were headed to the area.
The anticipated traffic had port officials urging guests to allow extra driving time as they headed to Port Canaveral, with the expectation that traffic would be particularly heavy.
Normally, launches out of Kennedy Space Center do not pose a major disruption to cruise traffic, port officials explained.
However, given the historic nature of this launch, if your trip to Port Canaveral coincides with the eventual launch date for Artemis I, you may want to plan ahead to avoid the possibility of traffic.
Impact to flights
Throughout the summer, we’ve seen time and again how even a relatively brief storm over Florida can prompt a slew of flight disruptions among airlines, given the vast number of flights in and out of Florida airports each day. A number of airports are in the relative vicinity of Cape Canaveral, including Orlando International Airport (MCO) some 40 miles inland.
The combination of NASA’s space activity and the rise in launches from private companies means the Federal Aviation Administration has faced the increasingly complicated task of managing the airspace during launches and re-entries of spacecraft.
Fortunately, when Artemis I launches, it is not expected to have a major impact on commercial aircraft operations in the area, NASA told TPG Friday.
This is because the rocket will reach an altitude of 125,000 feet — far higher than the cruising altitude of passenger planes — within a mere two minutes.
The FAA points to a couple of factors that have improved airspace logistics around launches even as more such events have happened.
Instead of rerouting a large number of planes, air traffic controllers only reroute planes that would be directly affected by a rocket crossing the airspace, the agency told TPG Friday.
Additionally, the agency now often only begins rerouting planes once the operator of the launch has loaded fuel into the rocket — a key step, considering the number of launches that get scrubbed like the one today.
Airspace closures have dropped from a typical of four hours per launch to just two hours, with some closures as short as 30 minutes, the FAA said.
Technology allows the FAA to reopen the airspace within three minutes of the rocket or capsule clearing the area.
Watching the launch from home
I can remember catching a glimpse of Space Shuttle Discovery taking off in the wee hours of the morning while on a family trip in the spring of 2010. I wasn’t anywhere near Kennedy Space Center, though. I was much farther north, in South Carolina.
At that time, even if you didn’t have an up-close view of the launch, there were still ways to enjoy it.
There are key differences with this launch, though, including the fact that it’s likely to occur in broad daylight as opposed to pre-dawn.
While most may have to settle for watching the launch on television or online, those “within a few hours drive” of Cape Canaveral might be able to briefly see the launch, NASA told TPG.
If that’s not sufficient for your viewing preferences, the good news is that NASA, again, sees this as only the start of a largely new era for space exploration. That means more launches are highly likely in the future. If you’re thinking of visiting the area to catch a future launch up-close, Kennedy Space Center has several viewing locations within a few miles of the launch pads that can allow you, as the center says, to “see and feel” the liftoff.
Typically the space center’s visitor complex offers a number of ticket options, including for launches, which you can purchase ahead of time or on the same day. Generally, when there’s a scrubbed launch, your ticket may be valid for the next launch attempt. Obviously, this is all going to be subject to ticket availability.
Officials of Brevard County, Florida, had urged drivers not to park along the side of roads, in medians or at Port Canaveral for Saturday’s launch (fearing an even greater impact on traffic). However, NASA points out there are a number of additional parks and other suggested viewing locations not far from the space center that can act as good viewing locations.
Certainly, the best viewing locations can vary greatly from launch to launch, depending on which launch pad is in use.
Since the region is a prime vacation spot near a major cruise port and Kennedy Space Center, there are numerous nearby points-eligible hotels.
That’s not to say it’s easy to find a room, particularly when you combine a major launch event with another high-demand weekend, such as Labor Day.
One option is a newer Marriott property just across the Indian River and NASA Causeway Bridge. The Courtyard Titusville Kennedy Space Center has a rooftop, according to its website, allowing guests a “spectacular viewing area” to look out toward the launch one while enjoying the rooftop pool and “Space Bar.”
Not far from the Courtyard, the Hyatt Place Titusville / Kennedy Space Center also puts guests within prime access to the space center.
Of course, rooms can fill up quickly ahead of major launches, so it’s generally a good idea to book as far in advance as possible.
Saturday’s launch was postponed, which is sure to be disappointing to hundreds of thousands of spectators. Still, once the Artemis I mission from Kennedy Center does launch, it will be a historic step for NASA and space exploration, while also putting everything from ground traffic to air traffic and cruise logistics to the test.
With more missions planned in the future, too, it’s a great time to consider what it would be like to take in a launch up close.