Massive dune to protect Kennedy Space Center launch pads from nature's wrath

On a gray afternoon in November, Launch Pad 39 B is quiet.  But this is the pad from which NASA's planned Space Launch System (SLS) will blast off from.  Many people aren't aware of just how close the historic pad, and other pads, are to the ocean -- only a few hundred yards apart, in fact.

NASA is hoping a strong and tall dune will protect the pad from the surf and surge of hurricanes, and it’s not just hurricanes that NASA is thinking about. Some scientists predict that if pollution continues, global warming will cause ocean levels to rise.

Bolstering the sand dune now puts NASA well ahead of that potential problem.  The dune is more than three miles long and at some points 17 feet tall. More than 350,000 cubic yards of sand have been used so far, literally fortifying the heart of our space sector.  

"The Mobile Launch Platform can be taken back to the VAB, but what’s fixed out there, it’s essentially what we call a ‘clean pad,’" explained Derrol Nail, a member of the NASA Communications team.  "It’s the flame trench, it’s a lot of the infrastructure that helps fuel the rocket and power the rocket, so those assets cannot be moved. They’re fixed; they’re in place."

More than $35 million from Congress is going towards the dune that shields those clean pads from the ocean.  Hurricane Sandy was the storm that showed NASA the dune build-up was a must.  In Dorian, NASA’s beach didn't suffer much erosion.

Another driving factor in this is the long-term plan for Space Coast.  Officials are trying to dramatically increase rocket traffic. That can’t happen if pads are underwater. 

The range is working on a goal of 48 launches a year, that’s about a launch a week.