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Hurricane Headed for Space Center

If the shuttle fleet were damaged, would the United States rebuild?

2 min read

3 September 2004--With Hurricane Frances barreling toward Florida, fears are growing for the fate of the Kennedy Space Center. The center is the sole launch facility for the United States' human spaceflight program and is located at Cape Canaveral, about 100 kilometers north of where the U.S. National Hurricane Center predicts Frances will make landfall in the small hours of Sunday morning. If Frances does serious damage to the space center and its shuttle fleet there could be long-lasting consequences for the United States' human spaceflight plans, possibly including a years'-long hiatus in the country's ability to put people in orbit.

Most at risk is the Center's cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), constructed during the Apollo era and currently used to combine the components of the space shuttle--the orbiter, fuel tank, and two solid-fuel booster rockets--prior to launch. The 150-meter tall boxlike structure was designed to withstand gusts of 200 kilometers per hour and sustained winds of 183 km/hour. While Frances's maximum wind speeds have fallen in the past day from a peak of 230 km/hour to 193 km/hour, meteorologists warn that the storm's intensity is likely to increase before landfall. What's worse, the VAB is suffering from the effects of age and neglect: last year's report of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board noted that NASA had to install netting inside the VAB to prevent falling roof debris from damaging shuttles.

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Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.


For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals its first images on 12 July, they will be the by-product of carefully crafted mirrors and scientific instruments. But all of its data-collecting prowess would be moot without the spacecraft’s communications subsystem.

The Webb’s comms aren’t flashy. Rather, the data and communication systems are designed to be incredibly, unquestionably dependable and reliable. And while some aspects of them are relatively new—it’s the first mission to use Ka-band frequencies for such high data rates so far from Earth, for example—above all else, JWST’s comms provide the foundation upon which JWST’s scientific endeavors sit.

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