Hurricane Dorian is slowly making its way toward the east coast of Florida, helping NASA & # 39; s most important space gate Kennedy Space Center (KSC) prepare for the coming storm. Staff in the spaceport are used to hurricanes and they have already started moving some important hardware to safety before Dorian arrives.
Currently, more than 8,000 employees work at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral under an internal status known as HURCON IV, meaning the area expects hurricane-level winds to exceed 75 miles per hour within the next three days. Dorian is predicted to hit the Florida coast on Monday, September 2, possible as a Category 4 storm with winds exceeding 140 miles per hour. That would make it the most powerful storm to hit the east coast of Florida since Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
In the aftermath of Andrew's trace of destruction by Florida, people at KSC decided that any building built after that storm would be built to withstand winds between 130 and 135 miles per hour. Other, older buildings are also storm-resistant. The large, iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) used to store the largest spacecraft in the center must be able to withstand gusts of 125 miles per hour. Although that is a threshold below the expected high wind speeds of Dorian, KSC is not yet too concerned about the integrity of the VAB. "It's a massive steel cage with aluminum cladding," says Derrol Nail, a communications representative at the KSC of NASA. The edge. "There are 8,000 tons of steel in this building, so yes, it can withstand a lot."
This morning, the center started the long process of moving what is known as the mobile launch platform in the VAB out of the storm. The platform is a $ 650 million tower structure needed to launch the future monster rocket, the Space Launch System that NASA is developing. Before the storm became a threat, the 400-foot tower had been on its future launch platform 39B to undergo a number of tests. "Certainly, we have now decided that the prediction is such that we must protect it," says Nail.
The mobile launcher is quite heavy, and the only way it can move is on top of a very slow track transporter – the same movable platform that transported the Space Shuttle and the Saturn V rockets from the VAB to the launch platform. It takes eight hours to carry the mobile launch pad between those locations, so NASA sent the crawler transporter to the path on August 28 to bring the tower back earlier today.
Once that platform is cleaned up, only tanks and a large concrete hill that NASA is not worried about remain. Other launch platforms, however, have a number of fixed structures and towers that have to run out of the storm. The other noticeable path at KSC is 39A, which is currently being leased by SpaceX and has a large dark tower that is used to support the company's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches. "It is a very hardy structure," says Nail. "You can imagine that if it can handle 5.6 million pounds of thrust from the Falcon Heavy rocket, it must be able to handle a hurricane."
SpaceX also has a path at the neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which also has fixed structures. And the company is currently building a test version of its next-generation rocket outside in Cape Canaveral. Images of the site still leave the vehicle outside, although it is near a hangar where it may move. The company says it is preparing for the storm. "In coordination with our partners at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center, we closely monitor weather conditions and intend to take all necessary precautions to protect our employees and protect facilities in potentially affected areas, "SpaceX said in a statement The edge.
In the meantime, other types of preparations are underway at KSC. Employees gasify government vehicles, move objects to safe locations and find out which windows must be closed before the storm. All of these preparations must usually be done before 6:00 pm on Saturday, August 31, when KSC is closed. "It is a holiday weekend, so in this case we get preparations early," says Nail.
Although most employees are not admitted on site, a small & # 39; ride-out & # 39; team of 100 to 120 people stays in the center all weekend and Monday to follow the storm. During the storm, the ride-out team stays in the Launch Control Center of KSC, where technical teams follow launches from the Cape. "This is where we launch rockets, so you know it's a hardy facility," says Nail. "It has been assessed for a category 5 hurricane." As soon as the storm is over, additional teams are put together to take a tour of KSC and assess the damage. After that inspection process, NASA decides when it is best to reopen the center.
It is still unclear how much power Dorian will unleash at KSC, if present. The last major storm that KSC had to prepare for was Hurricane Irma, who caused the center to stop for a week. In the end, the storm did not cause significant damage to the site's facilities, but the winds did not exceed 130 miles per hour in the area either. Dorian has the potential to be a very intense Florida storm, but Nail is optimistic that KSC employees can secure the facility – as they have done many times before. "We have a lot of confidence in the facilities here," he says. "We have withstood a number of storms and close calls."