With Hurricane Dorian’s central Florida rendezvous essentially over, it’s safe to say that SpaceX’s Starship facilities and Florida’s Space Coast more generally have made it through the threatening storm almost completely unscathed.
SpaceX is simultaneously building two orbital-class Starship prototypes at separate facilities in Boca Chica, Texas and Cocoa, Florida, the latter of which was under threat from Hurricane Dorian and the former of which just made it through the remnants of Tropical Storm Fernand. Both facilities are where they are primarily because of their favorability relative to Earth’s orbital mechanics, but their locations also mean that SpaceX will have to deal with risks of hurricanes, tropical storms, and generally unsavory weather every summer.
Heading into the last few days of August, there was an increasingly high risk that Hurricane Dorian would pose an almost unprecedented threat to central Florida and the US East Coast, rapidly swelling from Category 3 to Cat 4. On September 1st, Dorian made landfall in the Bahama Islands and exploded into a record-breaking Category 5 storm with sustained wind speeds of more than 180 mph (285 km/h), making it the strongest hurricane to impact the region in recorded history.
As a collection of islands with a maximum surface height barely 30 meters (100 ft) above sea level, the storm wreaked havoc on the Bahamas, with storm surge appearing to inundate a majority of the several islands. In a tragic turn of events, the weather system pushing the storm west died off, effectively leaving the massive hurricane to listlessly pummel the Bahamas for a full 48 hours. Sadly, no fewer than 23 Bahamians have been killed by Hurricane Dorian, and damages to the island are immense and will likely take years to recover from.
Thus, it’s an incredibly bittersweet victory to know that the ~48 hours Dorian spent almost paused over the Bahamas can probably be credited with the storm’s dramatically reduced East Coast impact. As shown in the videos below, SpaceX is back in action at its Cocoa, Florida Starship assembly facility as of September 5th, almost entirely unscathed after Dorian weakened to a Category 2 storm and never made landfall in the state.
Without making landfall, the limited remaining impact of Dorian’s weakened storm surge and winds is unlikely to have resulted in significant damage to the string of launch pads located along Florida’s Space Coast, including two SpaceX pads (LC-40 and LC-39A). Had Dorian remained at its peak Category 5 strength and continued towards Florida unabated, the damage could have been immense. In particular, SpaceX’s Cocoa Starship facilities and hardware are almost entirely uncovered and unprotected from the elements, with almost two dozen massive steel rings at an exceptionally high risk of being tossed around like hula hoops if winds were high enough.
Those destructive winds never transpired in Florida – albeit at a great cost to the Bahamas – and it’s nearly impossible to discern between videos of the Starship facility taken before and after Dorian. More standing water is visible (yay, mosquitoes!) and SpaceX managed to roll the larger Starship Mk2 tank section inside a vertical assembly building partially completed just days prior, but all Starship hardware appears to have made it through the relatively mild weather untouched.
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