Hurricane Gonzalo, the first major Atlantic Ocean basin hurricane in three years, has strengthened to a dangerous Category 4 storm, threatening Bermuda and forcing a postponement of the upcoming launch of the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket to the space station from the Virginia shore to no earlier than Oct. 27.
A hurricane warning is in effect for the entire island of Bermuda.
NASA and Orbital Sciences had no choice but to delay the Antares blastoff from Oct. 24 to no earlier than Oct. 27 because Bermuda is home to an “essential tracking site” that must be operational to ensure public safety in case of a launch emergency situation.
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Antares had been slated for an early evening liftoff with the Cygnus cargo carrier on the Orb-3 mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
NASA and Orbital issued the following statement:
“Due to the impending arrival of Hurricane Gonzalo on the island of Bermuda, where an essential tracking site used to ensure public safety during Antares launches is located, the previously announced “no earlier than” (NET) launch date of October 24 for the Orb-3 CRS mission to the International Space Station for NASA is no longer feasible.”
The powerful Gonzalo is currently expected to make a direct hit on Bermuda on Friday afternoon, Oct. 17. It’s packing devastating maximum sustained winds exceeding 145 mph (225 kph).
NASA and NOAA satellites including the Terra, Aqua and GOES-East satellites are providing continuous coverage of Hurricane Gonzalo as it moves toward Bermuda, according to a NASA update today.
The ISS-RapidScat payload tracking ocean winds, that was just attached to the exterior of the ISS, is also designed to help with hurricane monitoring and forecasting.
Tropical storm force winds and 20 to 30 foot wave heights are expected to impact Bermuda throughout Friday and continue through Saturday and into Sunday.
“The National Hurricane Center expects hurricane-force winds, and rainfall totals of 3 to 6 inches in Bermuda. A storm surge with coastal flooding can be expected in Bermuda, with large and destructive waves along the coast. In addition, life-threatening surf and riptide conditions are likely in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Bahamas. Those dangerous conditions are expected along the U.S. East Coast and Bermuda today, Oct. 16,” according to NASA.
After the hurricane passes, a team will be sent to assess the impact of the storm on Bermuda and the tracking station. Further delays are possible if Bermuda’s essential infrastructure systems are damaged, such as power, transportation and communications.
The Antares/Cygnus rocket and cargo ship launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility along the eastrn shore of Virginia.
Liftoff is currently target for October 27 at 6:44 p.m. (EDT). The rendezvous and berthing of Cygnus with the ISS remains on November 2, with grapple of the spacecraft by the station’s robotic arm at approximately 4:58 a.m. (EST), according to a NASA update.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.