NASA sets targets for new Ares infrastructure

by Chris Bergin

April of next year has been set as the handover date for Launch Complex 39B from Shuttle operations to CLV (Crew Launch Vehicle) recommisioning, in the first step of Kennedy Space Center’s transition back to a moon port.

However, it’ll come at a price, with brand new “lightweight” MLPs (Mobile Launch Platforms) and infrastructure, plus up to four test flights in the 2009 through 2010 time frame, before Ares I launches on its debut manned mission in 2012.


Further images and extensive information on L2 – from which this article was collated

The Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) remains a fluid goal, with dissenting opinion continues behind the scenes on the ‘stick’ concept. However, the timeline of bringing together the elements required is starting to come to fruition.

Shuttle operations on Pad 39B – first used as an Apollo launch pad in 1969 and as a Shuttle pad in 1986 – will cease on March 31, 2007, with all remaining STS flights utilising Pad 39A – which is currently undergoing an overhaul that is expected to last for another six months.

The confirmation of 39B is yet to be made official by NASA, although sources note the decision has taken place, ruling out Launch Complex 40 – which was the other frontrunner for CLV operations.

Initially, LC 39B will see the dismantling of its RSS (Rotating Service Structure). Funding for the design and modification of the pad will come into effect around August, 2007, involving the modification of the FSS (Fixed Service Structure).

Up to four test flights will take place prior to the pad being fully modified for Ares I operations. The test flights will utilise a the current four segment SRB (Solid Rocket Booster), with a dummy second stage.

While the existing FSS is tall enough for the test flights, the LOX Vent Arm and the Crew Access Arm will also be modified to access the interstage and SRB electronics respectively. Full modifications on the pad for the Ares I vehicle will be staged during the test flights. The current FSS will then be removed after the last test flight.

Overall, initial design phase is expected to last nine months, with fabrication, demolition, construction, modifications and testing expected to take another 15 to 18 months. The goal is to have the pad ready for flight hardware evaluations by the end of 2008, with the first test flight to launch from the pad a year later.

NASA’s goal is to have LC 39B ready to start testing with real test flight hardware no later than the end of 2008. Each of the three or four test flights will happen four months apart.

One major change that’ll have to occur is the construction of new MLPs (Mobile Launch Platforms) for Ares I – with one of the Shuttle MLPs being handed over for use in the test flights. This handover is expected to happen in October, 2007.

This MLP will require only a slight amount of modification, utilising the left hole currently used by the left SRB of the Shuttle stack for the test flights of the four seg CLV test vehicle. However, for Ares I, a new, lightweight MLPs will be necessary. The current MLPs are simply too heavy for combination of all the weight associated with the Ares I, inadequate by around one and a half million pounds for the crawler/transporters.

The MLPs used for the Shuttle program have a weight of about eight and a half million pounds in their Shuttle configuration. Add on the 4 million pounds the new LUT (Launch Umbilical Tower) will weigh, plus a fully loaded solid fuelled vehicle and other elements that will require carrying to the pad – means the crawlers would not be able to carry the load.

To get around this problem, NASA will build new MLPs for Ares I, which have a different appearance to the current MLPs by way of their shape and steel beams that will replace large parts of the current ‘box’ platform.

The existing MLPs will still live on, ready to be utilised by the Ares V (CaLV) heavy cargo vehicle. Whilst also requiring modification, the ARES V stack – along with the MLP/LUT – is expected to be pushing in excess of 15 million pounds in weight. For this, NASA will build two new super-sized crawler/transporters, using all three of the existing MLPs.

More articles will follow.
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