KSC lays out its hopes for 2012-2031 amid work on a new Master Plan

by Chris Bergin

The Kennedy Space Center (KSC) laid out its aspirations for the next two decades via a Future Development Concept (FDC) presentation that covers the spaceport’s transition into a multi-user facility. While KSC is hopeful of attracting additional launch providers, the center acknowledges times have dramatically changed since the production of the previous Master Plan created in 2002.

KSC Transition – Via FDC:

With the end of the Space Shuttle Program (SSP), KSC has been hit hard, both physically and emotionally, as its flagship vehicles prepare to depart their home port to their retirement homes, leaving only a sleeping Atlantis on site at a new facility next to the visitor center.

The future should be bright, with the Space Launch System (SLS) set for a debut launch in 2017, while several commercial companies – such as Boeing – prepare to use the former shuttle facilities to prepare their own spaceships for launches.

It is also hoped at least one of the companies will eventually opt to launch their vehicles from Complex 39, namely Pad 39A, as KSC hopes to transition to a multi-user facility.

“KSC is the planet’s premier launch complex for sending humans and payloads to space. In the years ahead, it will transform from a Government and program-focused, single-user launch complex to a more capability-centric and cost-effective multi-user spaceport,” opened the FDC presentation.

“KSC’s new mission will be to enable both government and commercial space providers with facilities, experienced workforce and the knowledge necessary to support existing mission sets and new space programs.”

All of this is known, and repeated once again by NASA administrator Charlie Bolden after the emotionally-driven 60 Minutes (CBS) documentary this month, focusing on the end of the Space Shuttle. However, as cited in the presentation, the current fiscal environment is tough and long-term planning is near-impossible in the face of budget uncertainty at the political level.

In reality, KSC is yet to be confirmed as a multi-user facility from the standpoint of launching vehicles from its launch pads. Only the SLS is confirmed as using Complex 39 for its launches.

While the 2010 Authorization Act has laid out the plans for NASA’s near and medium term future, the last revision of the KSC Master Plan was in 2002 – one that looked forward as far as 75 years into the future. Now KSC managers are looking 19 years into the future, based on what have been dramatic changes since the flyout of the Shuttle Program.

“KSC’s last major revision to its Center Master Plan was performed in 2002 (not available online), with an update to define Area Development Plans in 2008. The 2002 plan was a forward-looking, 75 year, unconstrained plan for land uses and facilities to support an evolution of KSC and neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Force Station into a more unified spaceport community supporting a robust growth in flight rates,” the presentation added.

“It did not, however, provide a clear implementation approach, or anticipate the dramatic changes and challenging circumstances that exist today.

“The planning environment of 2011 demands a revised baseline. The space transportation industry, both its technology and its economy, is evolving globally. the Space Shuttle has completed its finnal mission and program retirement is in full implementation. NASA’s budget has declined from earlier agency planning guidance and NASA anticipates continuing funding challenges in the years ahead.

“Approximately half of KSC’s skilled workforce has been being laid off with the end of the Shuttle Program. Resources to sustain and renew capabilities and facilities are severely constrained.”

The presentation promotes KSC as the world’s preeminent launch complex for government and commercial space access, one that will support NASA, and ultimately, the nation’s competitiveness, by investing in next-generation technologies and encouraging innovation, fostering partnerships, intergovernmental, commercial, academic, and international, to support both public and private space initiatives.

With a heavy angle towards KSC’s transition, the substance behind the Center’s future role can be seen in via its historic existing facilities and the known experience at being at the sharp end of launching rockets into space.

“KSC’s transition to multiple customers and resident programs is strategically critical to a sustainable spaceport infrastructure. New, non-NASA revenue streams will lessen the burden on NASA programs for O&M of launch processing and support assets,” the presentation continued.

“Implementing this transition begins with an assessment of KSC’s unique strengths, its core competencies, and the need for shifts in both cultural and operational practices to compete effectively as a spaceport of choice for both government and commercial users.

“Traditional NASA programs (Launch Services Program, ISS, SLS and Orion) will continue to be the core business of KSC, albeit at funding levels that may become increasingly constrained. Commercial launch providers and their customers, along with other government users, will expand the portfolio of KSC activities and provide opportunities for growth and optimal use of KSC assets that would otherwise fall dormant or be underutilized.”

Despite being world famous, KSC is more than aware that they need to sell themselves, given only the SLS requires the large facilities the Florida spaceport has to offer. Technically, all other vehicles, such as the current vehicles vying for position in NASA’s commercial programs, could launch from other facilities – as has already been stated as their preference by several of the companies involved.

“Only one space transportation system, NASA’s developing heavy lift Space Launch System, is required by its size and architecture to use a KSC launch site during the 2012-2031 planning horizon. All others, both existing and expected to be available, can be supported by other launch sites and support infrastructure outside KSC’s institutional base,” the presentation added.

Even the Atlas V system, a candidate booster for commercial human spaceflight and workhorse for lifting national defense payloads, is functionally integrated with the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) base infrastructure even though it is on KSC’s land. The FDC therefore relies on a transformation of KSC’s business model and concept of operations to achieve its vision for hosting and enabling space access for all.”

A deal has already been secured to process Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft in the former Orbiter Processing Facility -3 (OPF-3). However, this vehicle – should it win through the Commercial Crew award system – would launch from Cape Canaveral.

ATK’s Liberty launch vehicle would launch from KSC. However, it is yet to secure a firm place in the commercial crew development running, not least due to its current status of having no spacecraft confirming a wish to use the Ares I look-a-like as their launch vehicle of choice.

As such, the FDC is looking at future vehicles in its 2012-2031 Master Plan, such as the US Air Force’s Reusable Booster System – utilizing both Complex 39 and the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) – growth options for the EELV fleet and becoming a potential home for SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy – a vehicle currently set to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) and Cape Canaveral – although it has been mentioned that KSC is a future option.

“The principal space transportation systems which will or potentially could operate from KSC sites during the 2012-2031 timeframe include NASA’s SLS heavy lift booster, in development to make its first test launch in late 2017 and first crewed fliight in 2021 from Pad 39B at KSC,” added the presentation.

“Both existing systems in the USAF Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Program (EELV) could adapt to fly from KSC’s Complex 39 in addition to Complex 41 and the Cape’s Complex 37. Current and growth versions are planned at least through 2030, when the USAF has targeted a replacement system for the EELVs.

“That future system could emerge during this time frame as a development program to demonstrate and field a fly-back first stage booster that would be fully reusable and reduce mission launch costs.

“The existing EELVs and enhanced versions could support a wide range of user missions, including support for commercial human spaceflight, NASA and commercial exploration missions, and “game changing” markets that could emerge, such as incorporating propellant depots into exploration architecture or developing space-based solar power.

The new and evolving family of Falcon launch vehicles privately developed and operated by SpaceX also is targeted to address the user needs described above, and is already contracted for NASA cargo delivery to ISS. In addition, other launch vehicles commercially-developed and operated using technology derived from legacy programs may emerge. These could include ATK’s proposed Liberty rocket.”

Predicting the frequency of launches – or launch rate – is extremely hard. However, the FDC made an attempt, heavily tagging the findings as assumptions, ranging from launch vehicles to suborbital missions “taking off” from the SLF.

Concentrating on launch vehicles, a planning basis for future space transportation infrastructure needs during the next 20-year horizon involves assumptions regarding anticipated spaceflight systems and architectures to be served by KSC, coupled with analysis of available data and industry trends to forecast average annual space flight operations requiring KSC land sites and launch/landing facilities.

In other words, the FDC authors have made an educated guess.

For the SLS, the presentation uses the “worst case” scenario manifest of no more than one launch per year flight rate, from 2021 as the vehicle moves into its operational phase. It also makes a vague coupling with commercial needs for the superior HLV mass to orbit capability.

“The assumed rate for NASA’s newly base-lined Space Launch System (SLS) averages less than 1 flight per year, with the first SLS test flight currently scheduled for late calendar year 2017, and the first crewed flight in 2021. Total for the system and its growth version is forecasted to be 7-10 flights through 2031.

“In addition, 7-10 flights of one or more commercially developed systems are assumed in support of government or commercial missions beyond LEO. The low scenario for this group recognizes the risk of SLS development stretching out for budget or technical reasons, or a future restructuring of space lift strategies or priorities, and few, if any, commercially-provided heavy lift launches for exploration beyond LEO.

“The high scenario allows for greater than anticipated government mission demand and accompanying resources, and/or the growth of market demand, both government and commercial, for a commercially-operated heavy lift vehicle to support exploration missions.”

The presentation then cites all the commercial cargo and crew companies bidding for the NASA contract to support the International Space Station, although – as previously mentioned – it is highly likely such launches would be from next door’s Cape Canaveral.

“Commercial Cargo: The assumed 7-14 flight operations per year include both vertical launch/vertical landing and vertical launch/horizontal landing vehicle systems. The systems are designed to deliver crew and cargo to the ISS, other LEO points, deploy satellites or other spacecraft, and enable other mission needs for government and commercial customers. Landings may involve reentering vehicles following the mission, or potentially, fly-back first stage boosters.

“Commercial Crew: The assumed flight operations (launches and landings) of 4-8 per year on average over the next 20 years includes at least two system providers meeting the currently projected need for NASA astronaut crew transport to ISS, coupled with a modest demand for non-NASA flights. This level of activity includes potential for landing of a winged or capsule system back at KSC.

“The low scenario represents an expected minimum flight rate for orbital commercial human spaceflight to ISS or for other LEO missions regardless of the NASA ISS crew transport needs. The high scenario represents growth in both government and commercial LEO demand.”

The presentation – which mainly focuses on the business side and future aspirations for the future – is hoping for Agency-level approval to become a fixed Master Plan for the center, pending additional input from relevant stakeholders.

“KSC has prepared this FDC in cooperation with its stakeholders in NASA, its host state, its neighboring communities and partners, and industry. It lays out a conceptual plan for the transformation of KSC into a new role as a multi-user spaceport enabling both government and commercial providers space access for all,” noted the presentation in conclusion.

“Upon its approval by Agency leadership, it will guide KSC’s new Master Plan development and implementation for the next 20-year planning horizon, from 2012-2031.”

Due to the current uncertainty surrounding NASA’s budget and the relevant companies commitment to KSC, there are questions surrounding the accuracy and realism of the findings – a likely reason an “alternative” unofficial version the FDC’s presentation has being sent around workers at KSC, one that cuts out most of the pages and replaced them with a slide of an apocalyptic scene and a “thank you” note.

However, what is without question is KSC’s establishment and respect within the global space flight area, it’s confirmed role with SLS and Orion, and the attractive spare capacity available in this post Shuttle era.

Hopefully it won’t be too long before the rumble of launch vehicles lifting off from KSC will be heard again.

(Images: Via NASA and L2.)

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