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Launch facilities spared major damage from Hurricane Irma

An aerial survey by personnel at Kennedy Space Center reveals minimal damage to the center. The Vehicle Assembly Building appears unscathed in this photo. Photo Credit: NASA / Bill White

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Though damage assessments are still underway, it would appear that facilities at both Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) escaped Hurricane Irma with minimal damage. Both were subjected to winds varying from 67–94 mph (108–151 km/h) at 54 feet (16.5 meters) above sea level to 90–116 mph (145–187 km/h) at 458 feet (139.6 meters) as the storm moved through the area on Sept. 10, 2017.

Still Closed

Although both major launch centers seemed to have survived largely intact, it remains to be seen when either will resume full operations. With United Launch Alliance (ULA) and SpaceX targeting launches in the next few weeks, it is unclear to what extent either – or both – may be impacted.

The roof on this industrial building behind the Space Station Processing Facility at KSC appears to have sustained minor damage after Hurricane Irma lashed the center with high winds. Photo credit: NASA / Bill White

The roof on this industrial building behind the Space Station Processing Facility at KSC appears to have sustained minor damage after Hurricane Irma lashed the center with high winds. Photo Credit: NASA / Bill White

SpaceX, initially eyeing an Oct. 2, 2017, launch date for the SES 11 / Echostar 105 communications satellite, feels its schedule will be minimally disrupted from the storm.

“We don’t anticipate, at this point, a delay in our next launch from 39A,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, in a report by Spaceflight Now.

ULA seems to be in similar shape after the storm.

While some of the company’s facilities sustained minor damage from the hurricane, critical launch and flight hardware for the NROL-52 launch were not impacted. The launch of the classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is tentatively set for Sept. 28, 2017, though ongoing storm recovery may delay this.

“Due to the extraordinary efforts by the 45th Space Wing and ULA teams to recover from this storm, we may restore normal operations as early as Wednesday,” stated ULA, in a report by the Orlando Sentinel.

An aerial survey conducted by personnel at KSC shows minor damage to the exterior of some buildings at the facility, though much less than was seen after the near miss from Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

As of Sept. 13, the KSC’s damage assessment and recovery team has completed a 90 percent review of the area and continues to recover essential systems throughout the space center. However, the center will remain closed through Sept. 15.

Power restored, water service still problematic

While electrical service has been restored to much of the CCAFS and KSC area, the water supply has been less quick to recover. According to a Sept. 13 KSC blog post:

The center currently is without potable water service, which is used for drinking, food preparation and cleaning.

The center and surrounding community remain under a boil water restriction.

The center’s chillers rely on industrial water and are unaffected by the water restriction.  The center will re-open following restoration of full water service.

Personnel with the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing have been ordered to return to the facilities at CCAFS as well as neighboring Patrick Air Force Base. Both bases had been subject to a mandatory evacuation ahead of Hurricane Irma.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex – with its collection of rockets, including a Saturn V and the Space Shuttle Atlantis – weathered Irma in good shape, but it also remains closed until water service can be restored.

Overall, the infrastructure at both launch centers and surrounding areas seem to have emerged from the storm in much better shape than with Matthew in 2016, and significantly better than if Irma had taken its projected track up the center of the state rather than the western track it ultimately followed.

Aerial survey of KSC and surrounding area
Video courtesy of NASA via Associated Press



Curt Godwin has been a fan of space exploration for as long as he can remember, keeping his eyes to the skies from an early age. Initially majoring in Nuclear Engineering, Curt later decided that computers would be a more interesting - and safer - career field. He's worked in education technology for more than 20 years, and has been published in industry and peer journals, and is a respected authority on wireless network engineering. Throughout this period of his life, he maintained his love for all things space and has written about his experiences at a variety of NASA events, both on his personal blog and as a freelance media representative.

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