Vehicle Assembly Building High Bay 3 platform removal begins for SLS

by Chris Bergin

The giant High Bay 3 (HB-3) platforms – previously used during the stacking and mating of Space Shuttle hardware – are being dismantled and removed from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). The giant facility at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is being transitioned from Shuttle operations to accommodate the Space Launch System (SLS).

VAB High Bays:

The VAB is an iconic building at the heart of the Florida spaceport, originally built to handle the integration and processing needs of the giant Saturn V launch vehicle, including the mating of the Apollo crew capsule.

The huge facility stands 525 feet tall and consists of four High Bays and a transfer aisle, including two giant bridge cranes that can span its upper reaches to transport hardware across its expanses.

High Bays 1 and 3 were used for integration and stacking of the complete Space Shuttle vehicle. High Bay 2 was used to process the Shuttle’s External Tank (ET) after its arrival from the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF), in what were known as checkout cells.

High Bay 4 was also used for ET checkout and storage, as well as for payload canister operations and Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) contingency handling.

During a Space Shuttle flow, the integrated SRB segments were transferred from nearby SRB assembly and checkout facilities – such as the Rotation, Processing and Surge Facility (RPSF) – hoisted onto a Mobile Launcher Platform (MLP) in High Bays 1 or 3 and mated together to form two complete SRBs.

Next up, the ET – following its arrival on the Pegasus Barge into the KSC Turn Basin – would be inspected and checked out in the High Bays 2 or 4 checkout cells and then transferred to High Bay’s 1 or 3 by crane to be attached to the SRBs already in place.

The orbiter would then be transported over from her Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) to the VAB transfer aisle, raised to a vertical position by crane, shortly followed by the requirement to photograph her belly’s Thermal Protection System (TPS), transferred over to the awaiting ET and SRB stack and then mated.

When assembly and checkout was complete, the Crawler-Transporter would enter the High Bay, picks up the platform and assembled shuttle vehicle and carried to the launch pad. (Click Here for 15,000+ exclusive Hi Res Shuttle Photos in L2)

With the Space Shuttle Program (SSP) retired, the entire Kennedy Space Center is undergoing its transition to a multi-user spaceport, with a goal of launching both commercial and government vehicles.

While no commercial vehicles have committed to using the VAB at this time, the next big government vehicle – the Space Launch System (SLS) – will be using the famous building, not least because it’s the only facility on the Space Coast that can host the Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (HLV).

The only problem is the fixed platforms in the High Bays are still configured for use only with the Space Shuttle, meaning they have to be removed, ahead of the installation of a new set of “relocatable” platforms.

“The scope of this project is to safely remove and dispose of the seven extensible platforms in High Bay 3 (HB-3) of the VAB,” noted a construction update presentation for KSC – available on L2 LINK. “This work also involves selective structural, mechanical, plumbing and electrical modifications.”

For SLS, the booster build up – this time five segments high, and installed on the new Mobile Launcher (ML) – will be similar to that observed during a Shuttle’s VAB processing. However, instead of an External Tank being mated to the boosters, the large SLS core stage will arrive into the transfer aisle, complete with its four Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RS-25s already installed.

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The core will be then hoisted over to the awaiting boosters and mated, followed by the interstage, and then the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS). With the stack rising towards the roof of the VAB, the Orion crew capsule would then arrive from the Operations & Checkout (O&C) building, to be lofted to the top of the stack and mated.

To complete the stack, the Launch Abort System (LAS) and shroud would then be mated, completing the 321 foot tall vehicle, ready for rollout to Pad 39B.

During the processing, several decks of platforms will surround the vehicle, prior to retracting – again similar to Shuttle operations – for the rollout to begin.

The configuration of the platforms would need to change as SLS evolves, with the giant 130mt Block 2 being so much taller than its younger cousin, it will only just fit under the VAB doors during its rollout operations.

“The HB-3 platforms were a vital part of space shuttle stacking operations, but they are not properly configured to support NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS),” added the update presentation. “After the existing platforms are removed, a new, relocatable platform system, designed to accommodate the SLS and other potential future launch vehicles, will be installed.

“That design effort is underway and the work will be executed under a separate construction contract.”

The work, designed by BRPH Architects-Engineers, Inc. – and contracted to Ivey’s Construction, Inc. – is expected to last until March, 2013.

The fate of the famous platforms is not known, although the contract includes their disposal, likely to involve the breaking down of the large structures on site, prior to being sent for scrap.

(Images: Via L2’s specific sections, which include presentations, videos, graphics and internal updates. Discovery rollout photo by Larry Sullivan, MaxQ Entertainment/ Other images via NASA.)

(L2 is – as it has been for the past several years – providing full and exclusive vehicle coverage.  To join L2, click here:

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