WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Kennedy Space Center closes ahead of Matthew

Posted October 6

Kennedy Space Center

The Kennedy Space Center (KSC) closed Wednesday October 5 and remains closed through Friday. Workers spent much of Wednesday stowing items that could be affected by high winds. Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s (CCAFS) 45th Space Wing issued Hurricane Condition 4 (HURCON4) where non-essential personnel are evacuated and facilities are powered down.

These preparations ahead of the forecasted closest approach of Hurricane Matthew to the area remind many of 2004.

In 2004, Hurricane Frances’ gusts of up to 124 mph damaged the roof and ripped gaps totaling nearly a football field in area from the giant Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). The Thermal Protection System Facility where all space shuttle tiles and blankets were manufactured, Processing Control Center where shuttle orbiters were tested, the Vertical Processing Facility where payloads are prepared for launch as well as the U.S. National Register of Historic Places listed Operations and Checkout Building which houses astronaut quarters were all significantly damaged as well.

Thorough damage assessment of KSC’s more than 900 buildings, most built in the 1960s, required months to complete. In the end, $100 million of the $9 billion in damages was to NASA, military and other federal government facilities in the area.

The following year, Hurricane Wilma closed KSC when 13.6 inches of rain fell on the area and wind gusts of 94 mph were recorded at one of the two shuttle launch pad.

Damage was far less than Frances inflicted. The VAB again lost more of those 4 x 16 foot panels and other buildings sustained minor roof and water intrusion damage. A small crew of KSC workers rode out the storm to watch over the three space shuttle orbiters in their hangars monitoring for roof leaks and sandbagging doors. The recently arrived New Horizons spacecraft which explored Pluto last year, remained in its transportation carrier for protection.

This week, there are no space shuttles to secure and no rockets or spacecraft are on launch pads or other vulnerable positions, but steps are being taken to protect another recently arrived spacecraft.

A U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy cargo plane delivered NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite series R (GOES-R) weather satellite to the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility on Aug. 22.

GOES-R is highly anticipated in the WRAL weather center and by meteorologists around the country. Once in orbit, the latest generation weather satellite will provide five times faster coverage, more accurate data for hurricane tracking and intensity forecasts, as well as real-time mapping of lightning. 

The spacecraft has been transported 10 miles across the Indian River to the Lockheed/Astrotech Space Operations facility in Titusville for processing prior to the planned Nov. 4 launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

While in the Astrotech cleanroom, spacecraft undergo final checkout, fueling, and enclosure in the payload fairing with forms the nosecone to be mounted the rocket’s second stage at the vehicle integration facility near the launch pad a few days before launch.

Astrotech’s facilities, like similarly critical ones at the Kennedy Space Center, are designed to withstand Matthew’s forecasted category 4 conditions. Teams are building a tent over the satellite to provide extra protection should water be forced into the building.

Tents are a common sight in cleanrooms. They usually provide a higher level of dust protection than the main room provides through positive airflow to the tent. When you think of tents think less of the Coleman tent you might pitch on a family camping trip and more of a soft, but are airtight, walled module room. That temporary tent is a big one, tall enough to accommodate the two-story tall spacecraft. 

Storm surge is another concern. The latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center puts GOES-R’s launch pad itself at a 60%-70% risk of flooding particularly from the Banana River to the west of the pad. Much of the rest of KSC and CCAFS are at elevated risks of flooding, especially those closest to rivers and the Atlantic Ocean. Astrotech facilities on the Florida mainland are outside the forecasted areas of highest risk for storm surge flooding.

To learn more about GOES-R, join System Program Director Greg Mandt and Senior Scientist Dr. Steve Goodman for a Reddit “Ask us Anything” event on Thursday, October 6 from 1-3 p.m. Visit https://www.reddit.com/r/science, the questions and answers will remain after the event.


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