back to article Hurricane Irma imperils first ever SpaceX shuttle launch: US military's secret squirrel X-37B

Incoming Hurricane Irma is menacing Florida, USA, prompting mandatory evacuations – and threatening to ruin Elon Musk's week too. On Wednesday, SpaceX is due to deliver the US Air Force's secretive X-37B pocket space shuttle into orbit, using a Falcon 9 rocket blasting off from Cape Canaveral in the usually Sunshine State. The …

  1. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Nobody knows where Irma is going. It's *supposed* to just hit the Keys, but there won't be real data for a couple days still.

    Then there's TS Jose that just popped up just behind, and there's no telling what that'll do either. Irma is probably stealing all the heat energy, but tons of rain can still be painful, as Texas found out.

    1. Christoph

      Jose is expected to swing north away from the US.

      Jose predicted path

      Katia will only hit Mexico.

      Katia predicted path

    2. phuzz Silver badge

      "Nobody knows where Irma is going."

      Not 3-4 day out maybe, but Puerto Rico are pretty definitely in the firing line.

  2. TheElder

    Just Category 5?

    Category 5 (252 km/h or higher): Catastrophic damage will occur: A high percentage of frame homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.

    What about when it is basically a giant tornado? When the percentage is 100%. When the power is gone? When the islands are gone?

    Do we then start using Category 6?

    1. MrDamage Silver badge

      Re: Just Category 5?

      Category 6 will be implemented by Trump, when he starts bragging how he has overseen the yuuugest storms, the bestest storms, the powerfulest storms.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Just Category 5?

        Try to keep a grip on reality. Trump is not omnipotent.

        Besides, when Bush was done with that hurricane-guiding machine he had it dismantled. ;-/

        1. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit

          Re: Just Category 5?

          Trump is not omnipotent.

          We know that, does he?

          1. Chemical Bob

            Re: Trump is not omnipotent.

            "We know that, does he?"

            He's also not omniscient.

      2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        "Cat 6 will be implemented by Trump,..starts bragging.. overseen the yuuugest storms, "

        Be very careful what you say in jest about the D.

        Today's tweeted joke.

        Tomorrows policy.

      3. mantavani

        Re: Just Category 5?

        Presumably a cat 6 storm will be just like a cat 5 storm, but with less crosstalk.

  3. Drew 11

    Looking at the forecast cone, it could bypass Florida and whack Cuba and Texas.

    Too far out to be certain.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This seems like it comes more to what KSC, AF range and SpaceX policy on evactuation are as current track indicate it still should be quite a ways away on thursday, and they have an airport runway effectively to them self on site for if need an expedited exit backup.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      It would be much cooler if they could make their escape by rocket...

      Perhaps in ten years, when they have a re-usable fleet of rockets and Dragon 2 capsules.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Personally, having experienced a Category 1 (bordering on Cat 2) hurricane, I've decided that we're not doing that again. We own a car. We're not on an island, We'll just get in the car and take a road trip. We'll leave 36 hours before all the others, and we'll leave 12 hours before even the others that leave early. I can drive 1000+ km in 24 hours easy. See ya. I'd rather be eating a hamburger in a nice restaurant in some distant town, than cowering in fear while the roof is torn off. There's nothing you can do. You're not going to hold the roof on with a small rope.

    My sympathies are with the poor folks that live on the islands island. The timing is impossible. If the flights are full, you're stuck.

    1. Drew 11

      Re: Leave...

      I survived Wilma (Cat 5) in Cancun. It went right over us. Mexican houses are concrete block (including roof) so hold out a lot better in hurricanes. Not so good in earthquakes.

      Only 2 deaths IIRC, both ventured outside during the high winds, one got nailed by a flying sheet of iron, the other by a downed power conductor.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        "Mexican houses are concrete block (including roof) so hold out a lot better in hurricanes."

        So I guess it's a question of what you get more of, hurricanes or earthquakes.

        BTW I once did a very rough BOTE of the energy in one of these things.

        It's about 1000 GW (YMMV).

        The entire UK generating capacity is about 54GW. I couldn't find a number for the US

        Takeaway lesson. Don't get into a fight with Mother Nature.

        1. cray74

          Re: "Mexican houses are concrete block (including roof) so hold out a lot better in hurricanes."

          The entire UK generating capacity is about 54GW. I couldn't find a number for the US

          The average US electrical consumption in 2014 was 473GW, based on a total usage of 4,144.3 Terawatt hours.

          1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

            "The average US electrical consumption in 2014 was 473GW,"

            Thank you for that statistic. I hit the EIA but that only gave new capacity increases and old capacity retirements, not an overall figure.

            So still < 1/2 a Cat 5 tornado.

            Hence why it's probably a good idea not to be around when you get one of these windy visitors.

            1. Chemical Bob

              Re: "The average US electrical consumption in 2014 was 473GW,"

              "Hence why it's probably a good idea not to be around when you get one of these windy visitors."

              Or ya figure out how to stick a wind generator and battery in there...

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          You can design houses that work against both

          The reason concrete block homes are bad in earthquakes is because concrete is strong compressively, but not good for shearing forces. Block homes have only mortar holding the blocks together, so they can easily fall apart during a violent shaking.

          If you build with poured concrete reinforced with rebar, with the rebar tying the foundation to the walls, and the walls to the roof then you may end up with some cracked walls after an earthquake, but you'd be safe inside (unless your antique dresser falls over on you or something) Well, you'd also need hurricane proof windows that are laminated like car windshields, but those are very expensive so probably easier to just have a safe room in the house that's got concrete walls on all sides and no windows. Good place for your home theater.

          Of course building that way is more expensive because you have to lay the rebar, set the forms, and bring in a concrete pump to pour it in the forms, which is why most homes in the US and Mexico are either stick framed or concrete block which are only resistant to certain disasters but not all of them like reinforced concrete is.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. storms

    I second that, get out of there (Klingon voice)

    But it does raise an interesting point: can hurricanes be diverted?

    It would be a political hot potato because weather modification is one of those areas where national obligations apply at least in principle.

    Irony: one potential use for SDI (aka Star Wars) satellites was suggested, "zapping" the jet stream to affect rainfall and potentally stall a storm in a remote location to limit damage.

    Can't say any more as references are classified information...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Re. storms

      Hurricanes have a very large energy flux by human standards. Even nuclear devices are popguns by comparison.

      To change what a hurricane does, it would be necessary to affect the weather system far in advance, the same way a threatening asteroid would need nudging way before approaching Earth to have enough effect.

      Trouble is, chaos gets a say. For the asteroid, the chaotic effects don't have time to operate since the "relaxation time*" for solar orbits is quite long. Not so with Earthly weather, which has a mere two day relaxation time. But two days is not nearly enough lead time to steer a hurricane, so we are stymied by a lack of predictive power. Otherwise, people COULD steer weather at enemies, at least in theory.

      * Relaxation time for chaotic systems is the approx time it takes for the chaos to increase beyond the ability to calculate future states.

      1. Major N

        Re: Re. storms

        The Hurricane Research division of the NOAA has apparently been asked enough times as to why we can't just nuke (?!) hurricanes out of existence that it's one of their FAQs....

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: Re. storms

          That's a much longer answer than I was expecting. The short answer is basically: "Because then we'd have radioactive hurricanes to worry about instead of just hurricanes."

        2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Re. storms

          Couldn't we just nuke Florida? Then the hurricane damage would make no appreciable difference - so everyone's a winner.

          Plus we get giant mutant alligators.

          1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

            Re: Re. storms

            "Couldn't we just nuke Florida? Then the hurricane damage would make no appreciable difference - so everyone's a winner.

            "Plus we get giant mutant alligators."

            We'll NEED those to combat the inevitable series of Sharknados (with OR without frikkin' lasers)

          2. John H Woods

            Re: Re. storms

            It would be the mutant crocodiles that would worry me!

          3. Chemical Bob

            Re: Plus we get giant mutant alligators.

            We've already got mutant alligators


      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Re. storms

        "To change what a hurricane does, it would be necessary to affect the weather system far in advance,"

        I thought emacs had a mode for that?

    2. S4qFBxkFFg

      Re: Re. storms

      There have been studies that suggest large oil slicks prevent hurricanes gaining the energy/moisture they need to sustain themselves.

      The very best of luck to anyone trying to get that kind of preventive measure approved.

    3. M. Poolman

      Re: Re. storms (can hurricanes be diverted)

      DDT applied to that bloody butterfly?

    4. fishman

      Re: Re. storms

      "But it does raise an interesting point: can hurricanes be diverted?"

      Don't give Trump any ideas - he will declare them "illegal immigrants" and try to deport them.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Maybe Trump will want to build a wall to keep out the hurricanes. 10 or 15 miles high ought to do the job.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Wall

          There is no need. Simply have The Donald station himself directly in the path of the hurricane. It wouldn't DARE muss his elaborate hairstyle.

  7. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    This is a really important launch for SX in so many ways

    It shows the can launch the X37b (presumably a lot cheaper than on an Atlas V)

    By implication the F9 is good enough for National Security Space launches, which any major LV mfg has to get a piece of, as it's a huge pie.

    It will set the conversion schedule for the pad to take the FH launch.

    Note a postponed launch due to a cat 5 storm is acceptable to the DoD, as long as it goes OK when it does happen. It is an issue for anyone who was hoping for an FH launch this year.

  8. IglooDude

    In such conditions the space center goes into lockdown. Non-essential staff are evacuated and a core team of volunteers stays on site until the storm is past, safe in the launch bunkers.

    My first thought was yeah, if there's a superhurricane coming, even a sharknado, one place I wouldn't mind being is in a rocket launch site bunker. Then I thought... ummmm, it IS waterproof, right? Because it'll be a lot tougher to get out of than an attic onto the roof once the storm surge puts everything several meters underwater.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I bet they have plenty of scuba gear.

      BTW, I saw a report once about three people who survived such a hurricane right over their little Caribbean island by hiding is a water-filled concrete tub, approx 18 inches high inside. They shared a scuba breather when it got so bad they had to stay underwater. Seems the rest of their house was gone, but that big heavy shower stall tub saved their asses.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If we had

    Time travel, with say a seven day window.. Might reduce needed resources to slightly less absurd levels.

  10. Alistair


    Minor correction to the article. Cape Canaveral is in Florida. *FLORIDA* is basically a sandbar. ( check out the fallout from the 1970's condo building mania in Florida, I mean its pretty clear they still haven't learned yet.)

  11. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    "*FLORIDA* is basically a sandbar.

    So the good news is that quite a lot of people who bought houses in land will be the owners of very desirable beach front property quite soon?

    I'll bet they are excited by that prospect.

  12. Don Dumb

    Way to Manage Risk guys

    "Since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, all new buildings at the location have been built to withstand wind speeds of up to 130mph. However, Irma is, right now, producing winds in excess of 180mph and may pick up more strength before it hits the coast."

    So after a category 5 hurricane caused damage to Florida, they reacted by ensuring that they built strong enough to withstand up to category 3 hurricanes. That's some reaction and from an organisation that knows just a little bit about the effects of a changing climate.

    I really hope the nuclear facilities in California aren't built to withstand earthquakes merely up to 7 on the scale....

  13. MT Field

    I honestly find little sympathy for Florida and Space X despite the tech and space angle.

    Please spare a thought for the poor people of those Caribbean islands that will take the full force of this monster. They have nowhere to go and nothing to fall back on and very little help from outside.

    1. MT Field

      Four thumbs down? You heartless bastards.

  14. Def Silver badge

    If this is such a top secret craft, why are those bee keepers allowed to get so close to it? (See story picture.)

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Every thing is fine

    Turned out was not an issue after all, went up pretty much at the start of the launch window.

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