NASA’s famous Pegasus Barge – best known for transporting External Tanks from the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) – is about to be handed over to a contractor for the modifications that will allow it to transport Space Launch System (SLS) Cores to Florida. The modifications will include the barge being “stretched” to cater for the large HLV cores.
Barges have played a major role throughout the history of the American space program, transporting major pieces of hardware from NASA centers to their eventual launch site destination in Florida.
At one point NASA had a fleet of barges, such as the Orion, Poseidon, Pearl River and Palaemon – as seen in this photo (left) with various tugs used to guide the barges, and another unidentified open-deck barge in the background.
These barges ferried Saturn IB and Saturn V stages between Marshall Space Center (MSFC); Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF); Mississippi Test Facility (MTF, renamed to Stennis Space Center); and Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
Built to replace NASA’s aging Poseidon and Orion barges – both built in the 1940s to serve in World War II and converted in the 1960s for NASA’s Apollo program – Pegasus became the sole means of transport for the shuttle external tanks in 2002.
Pegasus was specially designed and built for Shuttle External Tanks, making the 900 mile trip 41 times between 1999 and 2011, delivering 31 space shuttle external tanks: ET-103, ET-105, ET-106, ET-108, ET-110, ET-111, ET-113 and ET-115 through ET-138.
The 260 feet long, 50 foot wide and 15 feet high Pegasus has been docked at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, since 2011.
This is because her final Shuttle-era role wasn’t her final Shuttle-related journey. Instead she was tasked with delivering the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) ground support equipment to Stennis from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, before being mothballed.
This month will see her depart the famous rocket engine test facility, ahead of a short trip to Amelia, Louisiana – where contractor Conrad Shipyard LLC will conduct modifications on the barge, per their $8.5m contract with NASA.
The main modification requirements are based around stretching the barge to be able to carry the long core stages of the Space Launch System (SLS), along with life extensions that will ensure she has a role in NASA’s return to exploration.
“Pegasus made it possible for NASA to deliver numerous ground-breaking science missions to orbit and complete construction of the International Space Station,” said Robert Rutherford, group lead for the Transportation and Logistics Engineering Office at Marshall.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to know Pegasus will carry on its long tradition of service, supporting the nation’s missions in space.”
According to L2 information, the barge is set to be delivered to the contractor on July 14, where Conrad Shipyard workers will be tasked with lengthening the barge from 260 feet to 310 feet.
Conrad themselves will tow Pegasus from Stennis to the company’s shipyard facilities in Amelia, where she will be drydocked during repair/refit operations.
The work is expected to be completed in early 2015, readying Pegasus to set sail once more, ready to pick up her first core.
Pegasus will also see a change to the the loading and unloading of the large hardware elements, via the Self Propelled Module Transporter (SPMT) – that will allow for SLS Structural Test Articles (STAs) and the Integrated Core Stage (ICS) to depart MAF to NASA locations.
The SPMT will be able to travel at up to three miles per hour and be capable – when SPMT modules are grouped together – of carrying up to 600,000lbs.
A total of four transporters will be required for the SLS Program.
Both the SPMT and the upgraded Pegasus will join forces when the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) begin to ship out stages – opening with the STA.
This will involve testing at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) and Stennis – the latter of which will be deeply involved in engine testing with the RS-25s on the integrated core stage.
The A-1 Test Stand is deep into preparations for returning the a test schedule for the RS-25s, last seen during the Shuttle Program.
According to L2 information, Test stand A-1 modifications were completed June 30, with engine E0525 mounted on the stand July 1. Eo525 testing is still scheduled to start NET (No Earlier Than) August 20.
Meanwhile, the historic restart of RS-25 production “Authority To Proceed” is scheduled for October 1.
Eventually, the amazing sight of a SLS core with four RS-25s will be seen at Stennis, providing a major milestone head of the monster rocket’s first flight which is currently scheduled for December, 2017 – although it is rumored this Exploration Mission -1 (EM-1) flight will be pushed back one full year by NASA HQ.
Such a delay would not be a major impact on SLS requirements, given the accelerated 2017 date was a throwback to the since-defunct support role for the International Space Station (ISS) in the event the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) suffered a massive set back.
SLS teams continue to work towards the 2017 date, with recent milestones including the passing of the Core Stage Critical Design Review (CDR).
Also, MAF’s Vertical Assembly Center (VAC) – which will be home to one of the largest welding tools of its kind – is scheduled to receive its “Authority To Proceed” on July 25.
Other L2 information adds that the Booster CDR Pre-Board meeting is scheduled for July 31, and the Board meeting is scheduled for August 6-7.
ATK is continuing to work towards a realigned test firing, following the discovery of voids in one segment of the next test motor known as Qualification Motor -1 (QM-1).
(Images: Via NASA and L2 content from L2′s ET and SLS specific L2 sections, which includes, presentations, videos, graphics and internal – interactive with actual SLS engineers – updates on the SLS and HLV, available on no other site.)
(L2 is – as it has been for the past several years – providing full exclusive SLS and Exploration Planning coverage. To join L2, click here: http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/l2/)