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Hurricane Ian: NASA upgrades KSC storm status, Space Force starts closing facilities

NASA’s giant moon rocket Artemis I is rolled back into the Vehicle Assembly Building early Tuesday, September, 27, 2002 to protect it from Hurricane Ian. Mandatory Credit: Craig Bailey/FLORIDA TODAY via USA TODAY NETWORK

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Update: With Ian distancing itself from the Space Coast, damage assessment teams have either been dispatched or will be soon as NASA and Space Force officials begin preparing to reopen installations. All signs point to minimal damages. See our latest story here.

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NASA and Space Force officials continued stepping up storm-related preparations early Wednesday as Hurricane Ian, still a major storm on its approach, continued bearing down on Florida.

Upcoming launches have been pushed backed to no earlier than Oct. 4.

At Kennedy Space Center, teams continued working on securing facilities, locking down loose items, and completing any work that needed to be done in advance of Ian's arrival and potential shutdown of the center itself. As of Wednesday morning, KSC was in HURCON II, which is issued 24 hours prior to sustained winds of 50 knots (57 mph).

A NASA ride-out team, or ROT, was expected to be stationed in the Launch Control Center, attached to the Vehicle Assembly Building, to stay there through the storm and keep an eye on critical infrastructure. The team is also responsible for the first wave of damage assessments after the storm clears.

"Then the ride-out team gives way to another team, called the DART, which is the damage assessment and recovery team. They come in later and do a complete assessment center-wide on impacts from the storm if there are any," NASA spokesman Derrol Nail told FLORIDA TODAY.

In the VAB itself, meanwhile, the 322-foot Space Launch System rocket slated to launch NASA's Artemis I moon mission remains safe in High Bay 3. Teams were scheduled to extend one of the platforms toward the top of the rocket as another safety measure just in case Ian caused enough damage to punch a hole in the massive, historic structure used to assemble rockets for more than 50 years.

When KSC enters HURCON I status later Wednesday – 12 hours before sustained 50-knot winds are expected – the center, including all gates, will be closed. The ROT, already positioned by then, will stay through the storm.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, located just outside KSC's main gate, also said it would stay closed Wednesday and Thursday. Visitors should stay tuned beyond that to see if Ian's impacts extend the closure.

Latest at Space Force bases

Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and Patrick Space Force Base moved to HURCON II early Wednesday. That is the same as NASA's, meaning 24 hours before sustained winds of 50 knots, or 57 mph are expected.

A shift to HURCON I, or 50-knot winds within 12 hours, was expected Wednesday afternoon.

"Delta leadership has initiated a 'recall' notification of all base personnel and units are currently conducting 100 percent accountability checks of all assigned members, to include tenant units and families of deployed members," Space Launch Delta 45 said Wednesday. "Brig. Gen. Stephen Purdy, Space Launch Delta 45 commander, has not issued an evacuation order."

The Space Force can also call on its ride-out teams if necessary, but their locations and exact responsibilities are not made public due to security. Other personnel are still responsible for securing facilities, loose items, rocket-related hazards like propellants and munitions, and more.

"While launch providers are responsible for their own pads, we support by ensuring common infrastructure, such as roads and utilities, are protected and recovered. Specifically, we focus on debris mitigation from high winds and flooding control," Jerry Porter, chief of public affairs for Space Launch Delta 45, said.

As of Wednesday morning, both bases – Cape and Patrick – were still open. To see the latest on what's open or closed, like base support, medical facilities, and shopping, visit patrick.spaceforce.mil/HurricaneInformation to see a constantly updated list.

Rocket launch status

More: Hurricane Ian prompts local state of emergency declarations in Cocoa and Titusville

More: Artemis I rocket rolled back to VAB as NASA, Space Force prep for Hurricane Ian

Launches that were slated to launch from the Space Coast this week, meanwhile, were finally delayed late Tuesday.

First, United Launch Alliance said its Atlas V rocket would no longer launch from the Cape's Launch Complex 41 on Friday, Sept. 30, as planned. The next window to launch two commercial communications satellites for Luxembourg-based SES will open at 5:36 p.m. EDT Tuesday, Oct. 4.

SpaceX was also planning to launch another crew to the International Space Station this week, but that, too, has been delayed – officials are now targeting no earlier than 12:23 p.m. EDT Tuesday, Oct. 4 for the KSC mission known as Crew-5. That will take four astronauts to the ISS for a six-month science mission from pad 39A.

Timing for Crew-5, however, will entirely depend on crew arrival. Astronauts Josh Cassada, Nicole Mann, Koichi Wakata, and cosmonaut Anna Kikina were scheduled to arrive at KSC Monday, but their flight from Johnson Space Center in Houston had to be delayed due to Ian. If NASA needs more time, a backup launch opportunity is available Oct. 5.

As for other planned launches – like a tentative SpaceX Starlink internet mission scheduled to launch from the Cape Friday – it remains to be seen if teams will be able to pull them off with the complicated schedule.

For the latest, visit floridatoday.com/launchschedule.

Contact Emre Kelly at aekelly@floridatoday.com or 321-242-3715. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @EmreKelly.

This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Hurricane Ian: NASA upgrades storm status, Space Force starts closing