KSC All Hands: Spaceport must continue to adapt to NASA changes

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Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Director Bob Cabana has stated his world famous spaceport must continue to adapt and respond to Agency changes, although he remains buoyant about the center’s strategic role over the coming years, as part of NASA’s evolution and long term exploration plan. The former Shuttle Commander made his rallying call at this month’s All Hands meeting in Florida.

KSC Forward Status:

A year on from the emotional conclusion of the final Shuttle mission, Mr Cabana continues to be at the helm of a spaceport that remains under a cloud of uncertainty.

Soon after taking over from his predecessor, Bill Parsons, Mr Cabana’s first full year in charge was marked by the Augustine Commission’s review into NASA’s Human Space Flight future.

Its findings all-but ended the troublesome Constellation Program (CxP), in turn extinguishing the hopes of a large section of the Shuttle workforce, who by then knew the orbiters were flying their final missions, but had hoped to continue working at KSC with the follow-on program.

President Obama’s “FY2011″ budget proposal confirmed Constellation’s end, but also any immediate transition into a realigned exploration program, by calling for the proposed Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (HLV) effort to be shelved into a “game changing” engine study for at least five years.

A temporary reprieve for Orion was negotiated, returning it for an initial – and somewhat defunct – role as a lifeboat on the International Space Station (ISS). However, this move failed to quell the disquiet within the heart of NASA’s workforce and at the political level, even resulting in NASA administrator Charlie Bolden publicly apologizing for the way the plan was rolled out.

The plan was soon aborted, when a revamped plan under the Senate’s 2010 Authorization Act won through a Congressional vote by 304 vs. 118 – and was then signed into law by the President.

The Act provided clearer guidance for commercial companies to take over Low Earth Orbit access to the International Space Station (ISS), freeing NASA to focus on Beyond Earth Orbit exploration via their centrepiece launch vehicle, to be known as the Space Launch System (SLS), while returning Orion (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle – MPCV) to the focus of crew transportation to deep space destinations.

While the confirmation of the SLS’ configuration did not arrive until September, 2011 – mainly due to several long trade studies and an independent cost review – KSC now have a new launch vehicle to look forward to, one that projected to launch from the famous Launch Complex 39 for several decades to come.

However, SLS will not launch on its debut flight until 2017 - on a mission known as Exploration Mission -1 (EM-1) - and is currently associated with a vague and undefined exploration plan, along with a launch rate that will not reach its full potential until the notional missions to Mars in the 2030s.

As such, KSC is attempting to attract commercial partners to the spaceport, with a goal of transitioning to a multi-vehicle, multi-use facility. This drive was the focus of the All Hands meeting that took place on July 13.

Via an expansive presentation from the All Hands – available via L2 – LINK – the opening points related to charting a path to KSC’s future.

“We Need to Build the Right Capabilities for Human Space Exploration. We Have Faced a Tough Situation and Transition. We are a Strategic Part of NASA’s Evolution. We Have a Plan to Move Forward,” noted the opening bullet points.

Highlighting KSC’s heritage and its potential future – coverage nearly a century of space flight – the presentation portrayed the need to master cis-lunar space between 2017-2027, while expanding human exploration beyond cis-lunar space and the inner solar system between 2025 and 2038.

Notably, despite it still not being part of an official NASA direction, lunar surface missions are again cited in an official NASA document.

The obvious problem for NASA and indeed KSC, is the long term political guidance and funding, where government can only create plans, prior to hoping several subsequent Presidents agree to continue funding towards the long-term goals.

This is acknowledged by the All Hands overview, under the banner of “KSC Continues to Respond to Agency Changes”, by noting “our environment has and will continue to change and we must adapt.”

A major part of adapting to the future is already in work, as efforts continue to transition KSC into a multi-user facility.

With one of the Orbiter Processing Facilities (OPFs) already being converted for use by Boeing and their CST-100 spacecraft, KSC expect to hand over the remaining two OPFs to similar companies.

The Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) is also being transitioned from hosting Space Shuttle hardware to the multi-use of its High Bays, where notional graphics show a Space Launch System being processed alongside an Atlas V with a crew transport – as much as there are no firm plans for Atlas Vs to be hosted at KSC.

In fact, only one of the Commercial Crew competitors have shown any real commitment to the use of multiple KSC’s facilities. That vehicle is ATK’s “Liberty”, a rocket that would be integrated inside the VAB, and rolled out to the clean pad at 39B.

With ATK claiming they are committed to Liberty, regardless of the outcome of NASA funding to transport astronauts to the ISS, 39B should enjoy hosting at least two vehicles, with SLS also launching from the same pad in 2017. At present, no plans have been mentioned for 39A, which continues to be a mothballed Shuttle pad since hosting its final orbiter, Atlantis, for her STS-135 mission.

Another KSC facility that is already enjoying commercial use is the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF). The landing strip will also host Dream Chaser landings, should NASA fund SNC’s vehicle under the Commercial Crew program. Future program work will soon take place near the SLF too, via the Morpheus program.

While the majority of the Commercial Crew activity will actually take place at KSC’s neighbor, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), Kennedy’s lesser known role will be an important element for the future of the space program, as it morphs from,a primary role of being a launch site, to that of being an organization that procures crew and spacecraft launch services.

One obvious sign of KSC’s admin side, as opposed to engineering teams processing launch vehicles, can be seen via the plans for a new Headquarters building, part of the overall revamp of the Florida spaceport.

The work on the Central Campus will enable demolition of approximately 900,000 square feet of physical plant in the Industrial Area while rebuilding only about 450,000 square feet.

Between the 50 percent reduction in foot print and the considerably lower costs associated with the operation and maintenance of the new energy efficient facilities, KSC will save in the order of $400 million over the next 40 years.

Located between the current HQ building and the Operations & Checkout (O&C) building on D Avenue, Central Campus Phase 1 will be a 200,000 square foot facility that consolidates shared services, data centers, and office space in the Industrial Area.

The building – even after just Phase 1 – is impressive, based around a glass and concrete building envelope, rising seven stories – 110 feet – tall. It sports a curved airfoil shape and is purpose-built to allow the Phase 2 building to be built on the opposite side of the lobby structure.

With floors 3 through 6 mainly used for office space, 22,000 square feet will be available for office accommodation on each floor of the building. The seventh floor will host the Center Director offices.

The phase 1 building is scheduled to begin construction in September, 2013, which would allow for a completion date of March, 2015.

With work already conducted – and continuing – on KSC’s infrastructure, the spaceport is at least moving forward with its transition past its 30 year career with the Space Shuttle Program (SSP). However, as stated at the All Hands, it will need to continue to communicate its core strengths to future customers if it is to fully achieve its 21st Century aspirations.

“KSC Vision: KSC is the world’s preeminent launch complex for Government and commercial space access, enabling the world to explore and work in space,” the presentation added.

“KSC Mission: KSC safely manages, develops, integrates, and sustains space systems through partnerships that enable innovative, diverse access to space and inspires the Nation’s future explorers.

“KSC Core Competencies: Acquisition and management of launch services and commercial crew development. Launch vehicle and spacecraft processing, launching, landing and recovery, operations, and sustaining. Payload and flight science experiment processing, integration, and testing. Designing, developing, operating, and sustaining flight and ground systems, and supporting infrastructure.

“Development, test and demonstration of advanced flight systems and transformational technologies. Developing technology to advance exploration and space systems.”

(Images: Via L2 content from L2′s SLS specific L2 section, which includes, presentations, videos, graphics and internal – interactive with actual SLS engineers – updates on the SLS and HLV, available on no other site. Other images via NASA)

(L2 is – as it has been for the past several years – providing full exclusive SLS  and Exploration Planning coverage.  To join L2, click here: http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/l2/)

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