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ESC Empowers Part 2: It’s Electric—Lightning Protection at Launch Complex 39B


This feature uses sections of NASA video segments.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – In this second installment of our series detailing the efforts of the men and women of the Engineering Services Contract, or ESC, we will detail the efforts conducted to renovate and safeguard the historic Launch Complex-39B (LC-39B) for future use. Most importantly, what protects the launch complex’s expensive charges in the lightning capital of the world? 

Around the perimeter of LC-39B, numerous pods and weather gauges monitor and measure lightning strikes in the area. For protection purposes, three new 600-foot-tall lightning towers have been erected.

It was with this part of our tour that we began to gain a grasp on the diverse elements of the ESC contract. The realms of scientific research and engineering merged as we learned about efforts to refurbish the pad, which saw its first use in 1967, for 21st century purposes.

Launch Complex 39B has been renovated in the “clean” pad design, leaving very little to the eye. The one obvious exception to this is the three 600-foot-tall lightning towers that rise majestically into the Florida sky. Photo Credit: Alan Walters /

The process to renovate LC-39B to serve as the platform for future missions was a painful one. As one part of a two-part structure (Launch Complex 39 is comprised of pads “A” and “B”), LC-39B ceased use temporarily in 2007. Large segments of the iconic structure were torn down and carted off, leaving a stripped-down and bare-looking, simplified “clean” pad designed to serve multiple launchers. Much of the systems needed to launch rockets are either internalized or are incorporated into the Mobile Launcher itself (more on what the ESC does on that will be in an upcoming feature).

AmericaSpace spoke with Tony Eckhoff and Carlos Matos during this portion of our tour, but the unpredictable Florida weather once again intervened. High winds obliterated the audio from Matos’ portion of the interview. Much of what Matos discussed was carried away in the winds, but, thankfully, the operators of the ESC, QinetiQ North America, have already agreed to allow us a “second take,” and we hope to bring the fascinating science used to predict and prevent lightning damage to you at a later date.

The flame trench can be seen in this image. Launch Complex 39B was one of the first locations at Kennedy Space Center to be refurbished for uses in the post-shuttle era. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / awaltersphoto,com

Stay tuned for the third installment in this series, where we delve deeper into the science that the ESC does at Kennedy Space Center when we learn about the science of payloads at NASA’s Space Life Sciences Lab.



Written by Jason Rhian

Jason Rhian gained Bachelor’s Degrees in journalism and public relations from the University of South Florida and spent countless hours volunteering with NASA and other space groups to gain experience. He has interned with NASA twice. Once at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) press site in 2007 and with NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) in 2009.

Jason has worked with a number of space-related groups and events - including Google Lunar X-PRIZE team Omega Envoy, the 2009 International Space Development Conference and NASA's KSC press site. Jason has covered over 30 launches. His work has been published in Aviation Week & Space Technology, The Spaceport News and online with,,,, Universe Today and other websites.

Whereas some journalists are comfortable repurposing a press release and using imagery provided to them by the public relations arm of that organization – Jason has made a habit of getting behind the pre-approved announcements to cover the events first hand. He covered President Obama’s remarks live from Kennedy Space Center in April 2010. Jason also flew out to Utah to cover the test fire of Alliant Techsystems second test of the company’s Development Motor-2 (DM-2). More recently, he sat in the backseat of history, flying on NASA’s Shuttle Training Aircraft with STS-135 Commander Chris Ferguson as he trained for the last mission of the space shuttle era during the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test (TCDT).

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