KSC could facilitate military and commercial operators in the OPFs

by Chris Bergin

As Kennedy Space Center’s transition from the home base of the Shuttle fleet to a multi-user spaceport continues, managers at the facility have noted that the two vacated Orbiter Processing Facilities (OPFs) yet to secure a customer could securely host a military vehicle – such as the X-37B – next to a commercial customer.

KSC Transition:

Ideally, KSC requires more than just the prospect of launching NASA’s new Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (HLV) – known as the Space Launch System (SLS) – to fully utilize its huge base of facilities at the world famous spaceport.

At least that’s the plan, with documentation ranging back years showing a large array of smaller vehicles providing company to the “monster rocket” and its main passenger – Orion – under numerous tags, all of which aim to see the retired orbiters replaced by both commercial and government spacecraft.

That transition has already begun, with only Atlantis remaining at KSC, soon to move down the road to the specially built facility at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center, while Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft has agreed to take up residency inside OPF-3.

Work has already begun on removing the large platforms that once surrounded an orbiter during processing, allowing for the building to change call sign to the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF).

That deal – which included the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) Processing Facility and Processing Control Center (PCC) – was fostered between NASA and Space Florida, while it is expected to mark the return of 550 jobs to the space coast, a welcome boost following the thousands that were lost via the decision to retire the shuttle fleet in the run-up and conclusion of STS-135.

One of the most likely customers for one of the two remaining OPFs is Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), who have confirmed they are looking at KSC options to host their Dream Chaser vehicle.

However, per comments to NASASpaceFlight.com, SNC are keeping their cards close to their chests as to whether they favor taking over an actual OPF, citing the need for a clean floor environment, as opposed to housing their Dream Chaser fleet in the midst of gantry platforms and hypergolic hardware, all of which was very specific to the Shuttle orbiters and of no use to their space plane.

“We’ve been in discussions with the Kennedy Space Center and Space Florida about facilities (at the spaceport),” noted Jim Voss, SNC director of advanced programs and program executive for Dream Chaser.

“(However,) an OPF may not be the ideal facility for our vehicle, because they have all the structures that were specific to the shuttle that would have to be removed. We need a large open area, because our vehicle is much more accessible than the Shuttle was, and we don’t need hazardous operations because of our non toxic propellants we have on-board.

“But we are looking at using a facility at KSC for our processing.”

KSC managers are already fully aware that some work would be required to make the OPFs more attractive to the likes of Dream Chaser, who have evaluated – and used the “baby orbiter” as an example in NASA presentations – “clean floor processing” concepts.

“And it could be a little bit of both,” added Stephanie Stilson, NASA Flow Director for Orbiter Transition and Retirement, to NASASpaceFlight.com’s Philip Sloss. “We’d come up with a baseline configuration of how we’re planning to turn (the OPFs) over, and there could be some negotiations where we say we’re going to remove the hypergolic hardware and (the customer) could say no we want to use some of that.

“So we’ll work up a baseline and anything they want to change after that will be their responsibility.”

Another potential vehicle that has often been cited as a likely candidate to set up a processing base at an OPF is the USAF’s X-37B – currently awaiting its third mission atop of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V launch vehicle from “just down the road” at Cape Canaveral.

The main question for that option would be the security a military vehicle would require, especially when the two remaining OPFs are practically next door to each other – likely resulting in a commercial neighbour for the USAF space plane.

Despite that not being an ideal scenario for the X-37B, Ms Stilson claims an OPF used for a military vehicle – without specifically citing the USAF vehicle – could be provided with the reassurance of separated facility from a security standpoint.

“That could happen, sure. It depends on the nature of the different customers that are there. But we could come up with ways to keep them separated, so if we needed to have a secure location in OPF-1 versus OPF-2, we could set that up so that if you are badged to go into OPF-1, you can’t go into OPF-2.

“So that’s something we could work, and we have considered that given it’s most likely we’ll have two separate customers for those two bays.”

There are other potential customers for an OPF, including XCOR’s Lynx spacecraft, which will be using the near-by Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) as a take off and landing option.

(Images via L2, USAF, Brian Papke, MaxQ/NASASpaceflight.com and Philip Sloss, NASASpaceFlight.com)

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