SpaceX weathers Irma, no delays to busy October launch schedule

Source: SpaceX

Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station were largely spared the brunt of Hurricane Irma due to last-second changes to its projected path. Both SpaceX and ULA have since reported that damages to their facilities are minimal and unlikely to contribute to any delays in upcoming launches, of which SpaceX has several.

Several days before Hurricane Irma reached Florida, the storm projected to make landfall almost directly on Cape Canaveral, stoking fears of spaceflight journalists and forcing the evacuation of several living on the Space Coast. While Irma’s course veered southeast as it neared the Space Coast, Cape Canaveral eventually experienced some level of heavy rain, flooding, and high winds on Sunday and Monday. A NASA flyover of Kennedy Space Center illustrated this best, with very little damage visible from the helicopter, aside from some limited flooding and some mild damage to the roofs of several buildings.

Modern facilities at the Cape are generally built to tolerate Category 5 winds of 150 mph, and Irma appeared to potentially pose a threat to even those structures in the early days of forecasts. However, with maximum recorded winds of around 100 mph from Irma, worries more centered around tornadoes formed by the hurricane, as well as more temporary structures that were under construction. Gwynne Shotwell commented on this earlier today, speaking at the World Satellite Business Week meeting in Paris, France. SpaceX’s President said that LC-39A and SLC-40 looked fine in initial flyovers performed by the company. Her main concern was an array of construction materials and temporary shelters currently at SLC-40 that were exceptionally vulnerable to hurricane conditions.

SpaceX’s LC-39A launch pad seen from a NASA helicopter on 9/12. Thankfully, no damage is readily apparent. (NASA)

Following natural (and unnatural) disasters at Kennedy Space Center and CCAFS, access is restricted to a select crew of emergency reaction teams that are tasked with combing through the myriad facilities and cataloging any serious damage and potential dangers for workers. Once they are finished with their surveys, nonessential personnel are allowed to return to their workplaces and begin their own surveys and repairs. CCAFS and the 45th Space Wing began allowing nonessential personnel back into the facility on Tuesday, while Kennedy Space Center may open its gates on Thursday. Once allowed back in, SpaceX can begin their own damage survey and conduct any necessary repairs.

The company is planning to conduct its next East Coast launch as early as October 2nd, with a second October launch from Florida expected no earlier than October 14th. SpaceX is also scheduled to launch Iridium’s third group of ten NEXT satellites from California on October 4th, so the company has an extremely busy month ahead. Thankfully, with more than two weeks between now and next launch, SpaceX will likely have plenty of time to undertake all necessary repairs, so long as damage is minimal.

While SpaceX was spared, those more directly in the path of Irma were not nearly as lucky. In Florida, nearly 25% of all residents were without power for days, and many millions are still waiting for utility companies to repair widespread damage to their infrastructure. Many homes have undoubtedly been destroyed beyond repair. Floridans were largely spared from the deadly threat of Irma by widespread evacuation orders on the East coast, but most residents of islands along Irma’s path had nowhere to evacuate. Dozens of deaths have been reported in Barbados, the Virgin Islands, and other islands. Many more were killed and injured in Cuba. Recovery from Irma will undoubtedly take many years.

SpaceX weathers Irma, no delays to busy October launch schedule
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