Guaranteed Access to Space, Kennedy Space Center/Cape Canaveral, and Climate Change

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication/Presentation Date



Guaranteed access to space is a major tenet of U.S. national security policy. Over the last 10 years, over two-thirds of U.S. space launches have originated from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) and Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida. During the transition of the U.S. manned space program from a public-sector operation to a mixture of public and private sector responsibilities, continued access to space from the CCAFS/KSC complex is necessary to maintain U.S. leadership in space and the continuation of Space Situational Awareness, defined as understanding and maintaining awareness of the population of objects orbiting the earth.

The CCAFS/KSC installation spans a geographically complex area of nearly 600 km2, and the local climate is influenced by the presence of the Atlantic Ocean, and the Indian and Banana Rivers. The latter two water bodies result in two narrow peninsulas that run nearly parallel to each other until one reaches Merritt Island, which is the location of KSC. In addition to the area containing a major wildlife refuge, the complex has a myriad of unique structures such as the Vehicle Assembly Building, Operations and Checkout Building, Central Instrumentation Facility, Space Station Processing Facility, Vertical Processing Facility, Hypergolic Maintenance and Checkout Facility, and of course, the launch complexes themselves.

NASA has expressed a great deal of concern regarding the potential impacts of global climate change on the infrastructure and operations of all its centers throughout the U.S. KSC and CCAFS present some unique challenges due to the geography and humid subtropical climate of east-central Florida. Our research group has begun collecting and analyzing atmospheric and geologic records to determine the historical occurrence frequencies of extreme events such as tropical cyclones. However, an additional approach is to examine previous occurrences of extreme events to determine the impacts that they had on the infrastructure and mission at KSC/CCAFS in order to use it as a benchmark for potential future events. The year 2004 is of particular interest due to the transit of four hurricanes (Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne) across the Florida peninsula and the KSC/CCAFS area. This portion of our study involves detailed mapping of the infrastructure and facilities in the complex, overlain with meteorological data from these events as recorded by the high-density observational network, and detailed locations by dollar amount of facility damage from the four storms. We seek to determine spatial patterns of systemic damage from the storms and a categorization of the spatial damage patterns by dollar thresholds. In this way we hope to develop an understanding of which portions of the complex may be the most vulnerable to future extreme events in a global climate change context, and what (if any) the national security implications would be if this complex were unavailable for launch activities for some extended period of time due to a series of extreme weather events.


Atlanta, GA