Boeing’s CST-100 leases OPF-3 following NASA agreement with Space Florida

by Chris Bergin

One of NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) suitors – Boeing and their CST-100 spacecraft – have signed a 15 year lease to utilize Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF-3) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). The deal was announced on Monday, following a NASA agreement with Space Florida – the State’s aerospace economic development agency.

The Deal:

Classed as an “innovative agreement” by NASA, the Agency announced the partnership with Space Florida to exclusively occupy, use and modify OPF-3, the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) Processing Facility and Processing Control Center.

In tandem with the partnership, Space Florida announced it is leasing the OPF-3 to the Boeing Company to manufacture and test the company’s Crew Space Transportation (CST-100) spacecraft, creating up to 550 jobs along the Space Coast.

The deal will result in a sizeable dint in the thousands of jobs lost since the end of the NASA-run Space Shuttle Program (SSP), leading to praise from President Barrack Obama.

“The next era of space exploration won’t wait, and so we can’t wait for Congress to do its job and give our space program the funding it needs,” noted the President.

“That’s why my Administration will be pressing forward, in partnership with Space Florida and the private sector, to create jobs and make sure America continues to lead the world in exploration and discovery.”

In addition to the agreement Boeing is signing with Space Florida to reuse existing KSC facilities, the aerospace company announced it is locating it Commercial Crew Program headquarters at the center.

“We are extremely pleased that Boeing will locate its commercial crew headquarters here in Florida,” said Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida. “This positions our state well for future growth and a leadership role in NASA’s next-generation human space exploration initiatives. It is also a key factor in ensuring Florida’s space-related economy continues to thrive.”

The Spacecraft:

Boeing are currently working through their CCDev-2 contract milestones – worth over $92m – which is centered around their CST-100 capsule, a vehicle which is configurable to carry up to seven crew/passengers or an equivalent combination of passengers and pressurized cargo to LEO destinations, including the ISS and the BA-330 space complex.

Their CST-100 capsule is compatible with multiple launch vehicles, as much as the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V is now confirmed as the initial LV of choice, following their August, 2011 deal.

According to an expansive CCDev-2 presentation – acquired by L2 – development kicked off with a Delta Systems Definition Review, followed by a Phase 0 Safety review, both of which were completed in May. A Landing Air Bag drop demo was completed in August, followed by Phase 1 Wind Tunnel Tests.

October was on the schedule for the Interim Design Review (IDR) take place – although its completion is yet to be confirmed – with a Parachute Drop Test demo on the books for next April, part of a total of 25 CCDev2 milestones.

Boeing plans to use wind tunnel testing of the Atlas V and the CST-100 this year to complete a Preliminary Design Review (PDR) of the integrated system in 2012 under the second round of its Commercial Crew Development Space Act Agreement with NASA.

The run up to the PDR will include Service Module Propellant Tank Development Tests and the Launch Vehicle Emergency Detection System (EDS)/Avionics System Integration Facility Interface Simulation testing taking place.

Boeing claim they will be ready to provide services by 2015, a target date which is being used by most of the CCDev-2 award winners, as much as recent concerns over NASA funding is threatening slips in the schedule by one to two years.

The Facility:

The 15-year use permit deal is the latest step KSC is making to transition from a historically government-only launch complex to a multi-user spaceport.

Numerous presentations (L2) have been drawn up and refined, showing KSC as the home port for a new family of vehicles, ranging from Orion/MPCV, through to commercial vehicle fleet, and the Space Launch System (SLS).

While all the vehicles depicted may not wish to take up KSC as their new location, the Florida spaceport has made no secret about its desire to open up the use of its assets, such as the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF), Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), Pad 39B – which has completed its transition to a clean pad – and indeed the OPFs.

“Kennedy continues working to bring new commercial space activities to the center,” said Kennedy Center Director Bob Cabana. “Partnering with Space Florida to enable commercial space operations at Kennedy will help NASA maintain facilities and assets while supporting our nation’s space objectives and expanding opportunities for the U.S. economy.”

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Various vehicles were touted as potential tenants of one of the former Shuttle OPFs, with rumors ranging from USAF’s X-37B, to Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser setting up shop inside an OPF – the latter depicted in NASA documentation overviewing plans for what is known as the 21st Century Space Launch Complex.

“Dedicate OPF’s to government and commercial users: Allocate OPF-1 to potential commercial user. Allocate OPF-2 to potential commercial user. Allocate OPF-3 to potential commercial user,” noted the 21st Century Space Launch Complex Architectures Refinement Cycle (ARC) 5.0 presentation (L2).

NASA managers have already discussed the early release of OPF-3, which is the main reason the current orbiters are moving around just OPF 1 and 2, with one orbiter enjoying a vacation in the VAB with a portable purge unit keeping her healthy. The next rotation of the orbiters is expected in November.

OPF-3 still sports the giant platforms which were used to surround an orbiter during her processing flow.

These structures will be removed, creating space for Boeing’s capsule to built and tested over the coming years, as the company set up their commercial crew base at the world-famous spaceport.

“We selected Florida for the commercial crew headquarters because of its close proximity to not only our NASA customer at Kennedy Space Center, but also because of outstanding facilities and an experienced space workforce,” said John Elbon, vice president and program manager of Boeing’s Commercial Crew Programs.

With SLS work at KSC also ramping up since it was finally announced this year, Senator Nelson added that the transition of the Space Program – one which will see Low Earth Orbit handed over to commercial companies, and Beyond Earth Orbit becoming the focus of NASA – meant “the dream is alive.”

(Images: L2 Content, NASA, ULA and Boeing)

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