WASHINGTON – As Hurricane Dorian advances on a course likely to slam the Florida peninsula within days, U.S. space agencies and aerospace companies are sheltering millions of dollars in hardware and assets along the Space Coast.
Dorian, expected to strengthen in the Atlantic to a Category 4 storm with winds topping 130 miles per hour (209 kilometers per hour), could churn across dozens of launchpads owned by NASA, the U.S. Air Force and companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin starting around Monday.
Governor Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency for the whole of Florida. The Miami-based National Hurricane Center describes Category 4 storms as capable of causing “catastrophic damage” including severe damage to well-built homes.
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center said on Thursday it will move its 400 foot (122 meters) tall, $650 million mobile launcher structure used to assemble the agency’s rocket for future moon missions from a launchpad and into the Vehicle Assembly Building, a 526 foot (160 meters) tall complex built to withstand winds of up to 125 miles per hour (201 kph). “Is it bulletproof to a category 4? We don’t know because it hasn’t been hit with anything that hard,” Derrol Nail, a spokesman for the NASA center, said of the building, which is made of over 8,000 tons of steel. “We’ve seen it perform in storms between 100 and 110 miles per hour with minimal damage.
“This thing is an incredibly strong steel cage.”
The Cape Canaveral space center said it would close on Sunday with a skeleton team of roughly 100 staff staying behind in the launch control room to monitor the storm and the site’s aerospace assets.
“Everybody’s got their procedures so that you know what to do and how to respond and adapt,” Dale Ketcham, vice president of government relations at Space Florida, the state’s space-based economic development body, told Reuters. “Because with your people and your capital investment, it’s foolish to be cavalier regarding the preparation of a hurricane.”
A spokeswoman for Boeing-Lockheed joint venture United Launch Alliance, whose rockets are used to launch national security satellites, said staff began securing rocket hardware this week and its facilities can face over 130 mile per hour winds.
A spokesman for SpaceX, which owns two launchpads on the coast, said it is taking steps to protect employees and facilities.
The U.S. Air Force base in Cape Canaveral, Florida said it has cut off power for non-essential facilities and urged base residents to prepare for possible hurricane-force winds.