Launch of GOES-R Transformational Weather Satellite Likely Delayed by Hurricane Matthew

The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite - R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of the planned launch on a ULS Atlas V on Nov 4, 2016.  GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of the planned launch on a ULA Atlas V likely delayed from Nov 4, 2016 by Hurricane Matthew. GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Next month’s launch of GOES-R – a new and advanced transformational weather satellite that will vastly enhance the quality, speed and accuracy of weather forecasting – will likely be delayed a few days due to lingering storm related effects of deadly Hurricane Matthew on launch preparations at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Universe Today confirmed with launch provider United Launch Alliance (ULA).

“The GOES-R launch will likely be delayed due to Hurricane Matthew,” ULA spokeswoman Lyn Chassagne told Universe Today.

Liftoff of the NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) weather satellite atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket had been scheduled for Nov. 4 at 5:40 p.m. from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

GOES-R is the first in a new series of American’s most powerful and most advanced next generation weather observation satellites.

It’s ironic that awful weather is impacting the launch of this critical weather satellite.

It’s not known how long any postponement would be – perhaps only a few days since preliminary indications are that the base suffered only minor damage and there are no reports of major damage.

“Our teams are still doing a damage assessment. So we don’t have a status about all of our infrastructure yet,” Chassagne told me.

“A preliminary assessment shows that we have some minor damage to a few of our facilities. We had no rockets on the pads. So there is no damage to hardware.”

Damage assessment teams are evaluating the launch pad and launch facilities in detail right now.

“Since we still have emergency response teams in assessing, we don’t know how long the delay will be until we get those assessments.”

The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite - R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of the planned launch on a ULA Atlas V likely delayed from Nov 4, 2016 by Hurricane Matthew.  GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of the planned launch on a ULA Atlas V likely delayed from Nov 4, 2016 by Hurricane Matthew. GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The looming threat of a direct hit on Cape Canaveral and KSC from the Category 4 storm Hurricane Matthew on Friday, Oct. 7, forced the closure of both facilities before the storm hit. They remained closed this weekend except to emergency personal.

“Got in today to assess. Light to moderate damage to our facilities. No damage to any flight assets,” tweeted ULA CEO Tory Bruno.

The base closures therefore also forced a halt to launch preparations at the Cape and pad 41.

The storm grazed by the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) and the major population centers along the Florida Space Coast with wind gusts up to 107 mph – rather than making a direct impact as feared.

“Hurricane Matthew passed Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center …. with sustained winds of 90 mph with gusts to 107 mph,” on Friday, NASA officials reported.

The storm passed “the space center about 26 miles off the tip of Cape Canaveral.”

Cat 4 Hurricane Matthew track during the late evening of 6 Oct 2016.  Credit: NASA/NOAA
Cat 4 Hurricane Matthew track during the late evening of 6 Oct 2016. Credit: NASA/NOAA

The launch ULA facilities are now being thoroughly inspected before any launch preparation can proceed.

The satellite is in the final stages of preparation at the Astrotech Space Operations Facility in Titusville, FL as I recently observed during an up close visit in the High Bay cleanroom.

Check out this amazing rooftop video showing the high winds pummeling Titusville during Hurricane Matthew just a few miles away from Astrotech and the GOES-R satellite – from my space colleague Jeff Seibert.

Video caption: Before we bailed out on Thursday afternoon, I clamped one of my launch pad remote cameras to the power service post on our roof. Wind is blocked a lot by trees but none fell on the house. The highest recorded wind speed was 51mph at 7:30AM on Oct. 7, 2016. The minimum barometric pressure was 28.79″ from 8:20 – 9 AM. We got 5.9″ of rain. The ridge line faces due east. We never lost power. Credit: Jeff Seibert

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for GOES-R.

United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve at least two ounces of surface material and return it to Earth for study.  Liftoff was at 7:05 p.m. EDT on September 8, 2016 in this remote camera view taken from inside the launch pad perimeter.  Note the newly install crew access arm and white room for astronaut flights atop Atlas starting in early 2018.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid on September 8, 2016. GOES-R launch on an Atlas V planned for Nov. 4 is likely delayed due to Hurricane Matthew. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Whenever it does launch, GOES-R will blast off on a ULA Atlas V in the very powerful 541 configuration, augmented by four solid rocket booster on the first stage.

It will be launched to a Geostationary orbit some 22,300 miles above Earth.

But ULA has not yet begun assembling the Atlas V booster inside the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at SLC-41 due to the storm.

Because of Hurricane Matthew, the first stage arrival had to be postponed. The second stage is already in port at the Delta operations center and being integrated.

“The first stage booster is not yet at the Cape,” Chassagne confirmed.

However, conditions at the Cape have improved sufficiently for the US Air Force to clear its shipment into port, as of this evening.

“We just cleared CCAFS to be able to accept a booster for the GOES-R launch–how appropriate that GOES is a weather satellite!” wrote Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, commander of the Air Force’s 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, in a Facebook update late today, Oct. 9.

“We are returning to full mission capability and our status as the World’s Premier Gateway to Space.”

Artists concept for  NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite - R Series) advanced weather satellite in Earth orbit. Credit: NASA/NOAA
Artists concept for NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) advanced weather satellite in Earth orbit. Credit: NASA/NOAA

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

GOES-R logo.  Credit: NASA/NOAA
GOES-R logo. Credit: NASA/NOAA

Hurricane Matthew Grazes Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral

Aerial view of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Oct. 8, 2016 by damage assessment and recovery team surveying the damage at KSC the day after Hurricane Matthew passed by Cape Canaveral on Oct. 7, 2016 packing sustained winds of 90 mph with gusts to 107 mph.  Credit: NASA/Cory Huston
Aerial view of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Oct. 8, 2016 by damage assessment and recovery team surveying the damage at KSC the day after Hurricane Matthew passed by Cape Canaveral on Oct. 7, 2016 packing sustained winds of 90 mph with gusts to 107 mph. Credit: NASA/Cory Huston

The Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) and the major population centers along the Florida Space Coast were spared from major damage to infrastructure, homes and business after the deadly Cat 4 Hurricane Matthew grazed the region with 107 mph winds rather than making a direct impact as feared.

Although some of the base and Space Coast coastal and residential areas did suffer significant destruction most were very lucky to have escaped the hurricanes onslaught in relatively good shape, when it stayed at sea rather than making the forecast direct hit.

KSC’s iconic 525 foot tall Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), the Complex 39 launch pads and the active launch pads at CCAFS are all standing and intact – as damage evaluations are currently underway by damage assessment and recovery teams from NASA and the US Air Force.

As Hurricane Matthew approached from the south Friday morning Oct. 7 along Florida’s Atlantic coastline, it wobbled east and west, until it finally veered ever so slightly some 5 miles to the East – thus saving much of the Space Coast launch facilities and hundreds of thousands of home and businesses from catastrophic damage from the expected winds and storm surges.

“Hurricane Matthew passed Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center …. with sustained winds of 90 mph with gusts to 107 mph,” on Friday, NASA officials reported.

The storm passed “the space center about 26 miles off the tip of Cape Canaveral.”

Cat 4 Hurricane Matthew track during the late evening of 6 Oct 2016.  Credit: NASA/NOAA
Cat 4 Hurricane Matthew track during the late evening of 6 Oct 2016. Credit: NASA/NOAA

KSC and CCAFS did suffer some damage to buildings, downed power lines and some flooding and remains closed.

The Damage Assessment and Recovery Teams have entered the facilities today, Oct. 8, and are surveying the areas right now to learn the extent of the damage and report on when they can reopen for normal operations.

“After the initial inspection flight Saturday morning, it was determined that the center received some isolated roof damage, damaged support buildings, a few downed power lines, and limited water intrusion,” NASA reported late today.

Hurricane force wind from Hurricane Matthew throw a concession stand up against the Spaceflight Now building at the LC 39 Press Site at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Oct. 7, 2016.  Credit: NASA/Cory Huston
Hurricane force wind from Hurricane Matthew throw a concession stand up against the Spaceflight Now building at the LC 39 Press Site at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Oct. 7, 2016. Credit: NASA/Cory Huston

Inspection teams are methodically going from building to building this weekend to assess Matthew’s impact.

“Since safety is our utmost concern, teams of inspectors are going from building-to-building assessing damage.”

It will take time to determine when the center can resume operations.

“Due to the complexity of this effort, teams need time to thoroughly inspect all buildings and roads prior to opening the Kennedy Space Center for regular business operations.”

Not until after a full inspection of the center will a list of damaged buildings and equipment be available. The next update will be available no earlier than Sunday afternoon.

A “ride-out team” of 116 remained at KSC and at work inside the emergency operations center in the Launch Control Center located adjacent to the VAB during the entire Hurricane period.

View of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), Launch Control Center and Mobile Launcher from the KSC Launch Complex 39 Press Site.   NASA is upgrading the VAB with new platforms to assemble and launch  NASA’s Space Launch System rocket at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
View of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), Launch Control Center and Mobile Launcher from the KSC Launch Complex 39 Press Site. NASA is upgrading the VAB with new platforms to assemble and launch NASA’s Space Launch System rocket at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

It took until Friday afternoon for winds to drop below 40 knots start preliminary damage assessments.

“KSC is now in a “Weather Safe” condition as of 2 p.m. Friday. While there is damage to numerous facilities at KSC, it consists largely roof damage, window damage, water intrusion, damage to modular buildings and to building siding.”

Teams are also assessing the CCAFS launch pads, buildings and infrastructure. Some buildings suffered severe damage.

“We have survived a catastrophic event that could have easily been cataclysmic. It is only by grace and a slight turn in Matthew’s path that our base and our barrier island homes were not destroyed or covered in seven feet of water,” wrote Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, commander of the Air Force’s 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, in a Facebook update.

“There is a lot of debris throughout the base.”

“We are still experiencing deficiencies in critical infrastructure, consistent power, emergency services, communications and hazardous material inspections that make portions of our base uninhabitable or potentially dangerous.”

Severely damaged building on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.  Credit: 45th Space Wing
Severely damaged building on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Credit: 45th Space Wing

Of particular importance is Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) where the next scheduled liftoff is slated for Nov. 4.

The launch involves America’s newest and most advanced weather satellite on Nov 4. It’s named GOES-R and was slated for blastoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station pad 41 atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.

The launch facilities will have to be thoroughly inspected before the launch can proceed.

The satellite is in the final stages of preparation at the Astrotech Space Operations Facility in Titusville, FL as I recently observed during an up close visit in the High Bay cleanroom.

The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite - R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of the planned launch on a ULS Atlas V on Nov 4, 2016.  GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of the planned launch on a ULA Atlas V on Nov 4, 2016. GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The major Space Coast cities in Brevard county suffered much less damage then feared, although some 500,000 residents lost power.

Local government officials allowed most causeway bridges to the barrier islands to be reopened by Friday evening, several local colleagues told me.

Here’s some images of damage to the coastal piers, town and a destroyed house from the Melbourne Beach and Satellite Beach areas from my space colleague Julian Leek.

Home destroyed by fire in Satellite Beach. Credit: Julian Leek
Home destroyed by fire in Satellite Beach. Credit: Julian Leek
Home destroyed by fire in Satellite Beach. Credit: Julian Leek
Home destroyed by fire in Satellite Beach. Credit: Julian Leek
Local damage in South Melbourne Beach. Credit: Julian Leek
Local damage in South Melbourne Beach. Credit: Julian Leek

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Navaho missile on display at the CCAFS south gate suffered severe damage from Hurricane Matthew and crumpled to the ground.  Credit: 45th Space Wing
Navaho missile on display at the CCAFS south gate suffered severe damage from Hurricane Matthew and crumpled to the ground. Credit: 45th Space Wing
Local damage in South Melbourne Beach. Credit: Julian Leek
Local damage in South Melbourne Beach. Credit: Julian Leek
Local damage in South Melbourne Beach. Credit: Julian Leek
Local damage in South Melbourne Beach. Credit: Julian Leek