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Lightning strikes NASA's Artemis 1 moon megarocket launch pad during test

When lightning struck the Artemis 1 launch site, the lightning protection system worked as designed and neither the rocket nor the launch complex was damaged.

Lightning Strikes NASA Rocket Launch Complex

Lightning protection systems work.

This was demonstrated in spectacular fashion when lightning struck Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex-39B, while NASA's giant Artemis 1 moon rocket was on the pad. Both the rocket and the launch complex infrastructure are protected by an extensive catenary style lightning protection system.  The launch complex experienced two direct strikes on April 2, 2022 with no damage.  The strikes occurred during a fueling test, known as a "wet dress rehearsal" for the Artemis 1  mission to the moon later this year.

The launch complex lightning protection system consists of three 600-feet tall towers and an extensive catenary wire shielding system that surrounds the complex to intercept lightning strikes and divert the energy to the ground and away from objects on the launch pad.

NASA's LC39B lightning protection system was designed by Scientific Lightning Solutions, Inc. (SLS), a sister company of East Coast Lightning Equipment, Inc.  According to SLS, "On the evening of April 2, 2022, Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center experienced two direct lightning strikes, one negative polarity flash with three strokes and one single-stroke positive polarity flash. These events occurred with the first Space Launch System vehicle on the pad in preparation for the Artemis I Wet Dress Rehearsal. The positive stroke had peak return stroke current in excess of 100 kA. Since the lightning instrumentation was deployed at LC-39B in 2011, this was only the second positive polarity event to strike inside the pad perimeter."

Dr. Carlos Mata, Chief Technologist of SLS, went on to explain that, "The LC-39B lightning instrumentation system is arguably the most comprehensive lightning instrumentation system in the world. The instrumentation provides a great deal of data regarding each lightning event. It’s important to mention that in this instance one of the strokes was positive, with a very large peak current and tremendous continuing current. Both, the LC-39B and its lightning instrumentation performed excellent. This is a great validation of the design."

Positive lightning strikes are generally regarded as the most damaging because they subject objects in their path with a longer duration exposure to large amounts of current.

You can see a clip of the lightning strike (opens in new tab) from NASA's live video stream of the fueling test.

Photos courtesy NASA


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