As NASA prepares for the first launch of its new Space Launch System rocket on Monday, lightning has been observed striking the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida where the rocket is currently waiting. The lightning struck towers around the rocket which are designed to steer current away from sensitive hardware, and NASA says it is performing an assessment to check whether any systems have been damaged by the strikes.
Lightning and thunderstorms were seen in the area throughout the afternoon of Saturday, August 27. A video shared on Twitter by meteorologist Nick Stewart shows the lightning strike in slow motion, with what appears to be three consecutive strikes to the launch pad’s lightning towers:
240FPS video of the strike to the #SLS #Artemis Pad 39B #lightning towers. Looks like they did their job, they took at least three hits from my vantage point. #FLwx @natwxdesk pic.twitter.com/mYXQ5sIeKO
— Nick Stewart (@NStewCBS2) August 27, 2022
Lightning striking around the pad was also captured in an image by photographer John Kraus:
Lightning strikes next to Launch Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center a few moments ago as NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Artemis I await their Monday launch during a two-hour window opening at 8:33 a.m. EDT. pic.twitter.com/UsfBX1Q2u8
— John Kraus (@johnkrausphotos) August 27, 2022
NASA confirmed that there were three strikes on the lightning towers in total, one hitting Tower 1 and two hitting Tower 2. “Initial indications are that the strikes were of low magnitude,” NASA wrote. “A weather team has begun an assessment that includes collecting voltage and current data, as well as imagery. The data will be shared with a team of experts on electromagnetic environment efforts who will determine if any constraints on vehicle or ground systems were violated. Engineers will conduct a walkdown at the pad tonight, and if needed, conduct additional assessments with subsystems experts.”
The lightning towers are part of a lightning protection system in place at the launch pad for just such an occurrence. They are 600 feet tall and are designed to channel electricity down into the ground and away from any rocket, spacecraft, or supporting hardware that is on the pad.
A similar lightning strike happened in April this year when the Space Launch System rocket was on the pad at Kennedy for its wet dress rehearsal. Four lightning strikes hit the lightning towers, and one of these turned out to be the most powerful lightning strike ever recorded at the site. There was no damage to the rocket during this event as the lightning towers did their job.
Now, teams will continue their preparations for Monday’s launch including powering up the rocket’s core stage and charging the batteries for the Orion spacecraft.
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