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6.3 Lightning Protection at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

6.3 Lightning Protection at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station


Pedro J. Medelius * Dynacs, Inc., Kennedy Space Center,

William P. Roeder 45th Weather Squadron, USAF, Patrick AFB, Florida

J. Willingham NASA, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

1. INTRODUCTION 2. LIGHTNING MEASUREMENTS AT THE LAUNCH PADS Frequent lightning activity in Florida has resulted in the need for effective lightning protection systems at the The Kennedy Space Center is located in a region with Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and at Cape Canaveral significant lightning activity. The possibility of a lightning Air Force Station (CCAFS). Critical flight hardware, strike at the surface or aloft is a hazard that must be such as the Space Shuttle vehicle launched from KSC avoided during launches and during ground activities. and the expendable launch vehicles (ELV’s) launched Lightning activity at the Space Shuttle launch pads is from CCAFS, must be protected against direct lightning monitored in several ways. Local instrumentation and strikes, including their indirect effects, and the effects of remote measurements provide an indication of lightning nearby strikes. Electronic equipment is susceptible to strike locations and induced voltages or currents into damage when exposed to voltage beyond safe limits. conductors. Lightning strikes, which usually carry currents on the order of several thousand amperes, generate large A network of magnetic direction finder antennas is used magnetic fields with fast rise and decay times. These to locate ground strikes in the KSC area. Individual fast varying electric and magnetic fields result in antennas provide an azimuth angle to a particular induced voltages and currents on any conductor, which, lightning strike, and the location is determined by the if attached to an electronic device, can cause immediate intersection of the azimuth lines from different antennas. failure of the device, or cause lesser damage which can The accuracy of the system is in the order of a few significantly reduce its lifetime. An even more hundred meters within the KSC area. dangerous situation could result from a direct lightning attachment to an explosive or flammable device in a The Lightning Detection and Ranging (LDAR) system or a storage facility. has shown to be highly useful to the launch community in reducing the hazards associated with Statistical and probability studies of lightning strike and lightning activity, through a combination of effective damage data performed at KSC/CCAFS over the years detection and display technologies. The system was have resulted in a comprehensive set of lightning designed to map the location of intracloud and cloud-to- protection systems and methods. For instance, different ground lightning based on the time of arrival of the techniques have been applied to KSC’s electromagnetic radiation. The location system consists structures to estimate the lightning protection of 7 VHF radio receivers centered at 66 MHz., and effectiveness for the gaseous oxygen vent arm. In- displays intracloud lightning activity in real-time. depth studies of indirect effects caused by nearby lightning strikes have also affected the lightning A lightning strike location method currently in use at the protection criteria.* Studies have also been made to pads involves the use of a set of video cameras pointing determine the magnetic field environment in and around at different locations within the Pad. If a lightning strike the Payload Changeout Room (PCR) of the Space occurs within the field of view of three or more cameras, Shuttle when the complex is struck by lightning. the location of the strike can be determined. However, if the cameras are not pointing in the correct direction, or

their field of view is obscured by either the Pad structure or by a heavy downpour, the determination of the striking point becomes difficult, and in some cases * Corresponding author address: Pedro J. Medelius, impossible. There is often an uncertainty as far as the Dynacs, Inc., M/S DNX-10, Kennedy Space Center, FL location of the exact point of contact to the ground. A 32899; e-mail: pedro.medelius [email protected].gov new, very accurate, lightning location system is being Nevertheless, there have been instances when a implemented at the Launch Pads. The Sonic Lightning lightning flash has traveled past the catenary wire Location (SOLLO) system is based on the use of both protection system and has directly struck the launch pad electric field and thunder measurements, and can structure. The effectiveness of the catenary wire achieve 5-meter accuracy for lightning strikes within the protection was studied and modeled by Stahmann (1). pad perimeter. The SOLLO System will enable the The study provided the probability of lightning striking users to accurately determine the attachment point of a different points of the pad structure past the catenary lightning strike. This will provide important information wire protection, and resulted in a probability of one that can be used to determine if any equipment and/or strike to the Space Shuttle vehicle once every 100 instrumentation needs to be retested or evaluated for years. hidden damage.

Measurements of induced voltages are conducted using transient recorders connected to selected power and communication cables. The Lightning Induced Voltage Instrumentation System (LIVIS) consist of a fast sampling recorder with deep memory storage, which allows for the recording of multiple strikes within a lightning flash with high temporal resolution. Voltages and currents from direct lightning strikes on the launch pads’ catenary wire lightning protection are also monitored. The Catenary Wire Lightning Instrumentation System (CWLIS) is used to measure the current on the catenary wire following a direct lightning strike. Occasionally, nearby lightning dis charges induce enough current into the catenary wire for the CWLIS to detect and measure it.

Portable, self contained, wideband electric and magnetic field sensors can be placed at selected locations to evaluate the intensity of the electromagnetic fields during a thunderstorm. These sensors record and store waveforms to be used for detailed analysis of the shielding effectiveness of the pad structure.


Protection for personnel and equipment is of utmost Figure 1. Space Shuttle launch pad lightning protection importance at KSC and CCAFS. Warnings are issued mast. when lightning activity is expected in the area, and when A comprehensive study was performed to understand lightning activity is in progress. Warnings allow personnel to evacuate a dangerous area during a and identify the risks to payloads as they are brought thunderstorm, and to secure the area if needed to into position at the PCR, loaded in to the cargo bay of reduce the potential for lightning damage to equipment the , and checked out prior to and instrumentation. flight. The results of analysis using numerical techniques were compared against measurements

Lightning protection at the Space Shuttle launch pads is performed using a lightning simulator used to inject a provided primarily by a 70-foot insulating fiberglass mast large current into the catenary wire. It was concluded 5 feet in diameter located on the Fixed that as long as the Orbiter was grounded to the PCR, it with a lightning rod at the top of the mast, as shown in was unlikely that a lightning flash to the catenary wire would cause enough voltage to present a hazard to Figure 1. A catenary wire running from the top of the mast to grounding points 1000 feet to the north and personnel in the PCR. However, there could be enough south of the tower is used to direct the current away voltage to cause damage to electrical and electronic from the pad structure. The lightning protection mast is equipment not properly grounded and shielded either on the PCR or on a payload (2). struck an average of three times per year. The goal is to provide a more effective protection of the Protection against direct lightning strikes has also been spacecraft from direct and indirect lightning effects and implemented at selected facilities at KSC and at improve the prediction capability of induced voltages, CCAFS, as shown in Figure 2. Overhead grounded currents and electromagnetic fields on the spacecraft protective grids are used at various installations to hardware. protect equipment and personnel working underneath. Expendable (ELV) pads, such as the Analysis of the potential for damage inside ELV Titan IV, are protected in a similar way. processing buildings is also in progress. Metallic high bay buildings with open ends can behave as resonant cavities, thus resulting in large electromagnetic fields inside. Coupling of these fields into power and communication conductors can result in voltages large enough to damage electronic equipment. The outcome of the study is expected to provide a better understanding of the magnitude of the fields that can be expected inside such structures. These results can be used to determine ways to improve the shielding effectiveness and to minimize potential damage to sensitive components.


The design of lightning protection methods, lightning sensing equipment, and lightning location systems is an ongoing process at KSC and CCAFS. The unique nature of the space-related activities, coupled with the relatively high incidence of lightning activity in the area, has resulted in increased attention to lightning and its direct and indirect effects. Analysis Figure 2. Lightning protection masts and overhead of data collected over the years, as well as that obtained protective grid for the Titan IV launch pad at CCAFS. from new measurements is expected to result in better protection systems for both personnel and equipment.

4. PLANNED STUDIES 6. REFERENCES The understanding of the effects of transient voltages and currents induced into conductors is important to allow for the design of protection systems for flight (1) Stahmann, J.R., Launch Pad Lightning Protection hardware and for personnel working in the area. Effectiveness, 1991 International Aerospace and Different structures respond in different ways to Ground Conference on Lightning and Static Electricity, excitation from a lightning strike. Unique problems can 1991. result from slow-decaying oscillations in a metallic structure, which can resonate at certain frequencies. (2) Fisher, F.A., Study of Lightning Effects at the For instance, a lightning strike to the catenary wire at Payload Changeout Room (PCR), August 1992 the Space Shuttle launch pads, results in multiple reflections back an forth the wire as a result of mismatched impedance between the catenary wire and the ground. This results in a strong component at a few hundred kHz with several large harmonics which could potentially result in large induced voltages on certain conductors.

The needs for NASA’s EVL Pegasus program are being evaluated for its potential exposure to lightning damage. Sensors for monitoring of transient voltages and magnetic fields will be installed at various locations.