After a weekend of back and forth, including a point where NASA deputy associate administrator Tom Whitmeyer said it “wasn’t even a named storm”, NASA has finally made the decision to roll the Space Launch System rocket back into the Vehicle Assembly Building to ride out Hurricane Ian, which became a major hurricane according to the National Hurricane Center sometime Monday night or early Tuesday. The risk with this delay was that the rocket can handle more winds while at the pad than it can while moving, so if it got caught in the storm due to a delayed rollback decision, the SLS could have sustained significant damage.
This rollback also gives NASA the opportunity to remove and replace the Flight Termination System (FTS) batteries, bringing them back in compliance with requirements from the Eastern Range for operating with the legacy system. Modern rockets such as the Falcon 9 put the vehicle’s own flight computer in charge of making the decision to blow up in the event of a problem, while all other rockets require a human to make the decision. The FTS has its own separate batteries and transmitters independent of the rocket to ensure the capability is ready when needed.
Rollback was completed the morning of September 27, heralded by a small fire in an electrical panel on the VAB. No one was injured, and the SLS was not damaged.
Unfortunately, this rollback means the launch attempts for October are off the table. At least NASA won’t ruin Halloween, though this does increase the chances of a major NASA event ruining two Christmases in a row. Thanks, NASA.