It’s been over three years since the world famous Kennedy Space Center (KSC) last felt the rumble of a launch from within its grounds. However, the spaceport hasn’t fallen completely silent, as a realignment of the center’s role continues apace, ahead of the new era of commercial and government launches that may ultimately result in humans launching for Mars from Kennedy.
Shuttle Atlantis was the last vehicle to launch from Kennedy Space Center’s Complex 39, as she successfully conducted what some continue to believe was a premature conclusion to the esteemed Space Shuttle Program (SSP).
However, due to NASA’s funding limitations, a “gap” in launch operations was always on the cards, as the Agency completed the mission of assembling the International Space Station (ISS) and prepared to once again venture back out into deep space.
While an aborted plan to move to the Constellation Program (CxP) ultimately extended the gap, the development of the Space Launch System (SLS) has now passed the point at which Ares was cancelled.
KSC, for its part, is now deep into preparations for hosting the new era, renewing old infrastructure and creating what is tagged as a “21st Century Spaceport”.
Some of the work is far less glamorous than the spacecraft that have launched from the spacecoast over the decades, with work including the revitalization of the KSC Water and Wastewater Systems.
Although, the adjoining Crawlerway is being upgraded to handle the heavy SLS during rollout, along with the Crawler Transporters that will ride along it.
However, it’s the KSC skyline that has notably changed, as its two pads prepare for hosting more than just one type of launch vehicle.
Out at Pad 39B, work to tear down the old Shuttle infrastructure and create a “clean pad” was completed as one of the early projects, allowing for the hosting of the SLS and potentially other vehicles that would roll out on their own mobile platforms.
Pad 39A was mothballed at the conclusion of Shuttle, but is now itself ready for a revamping under the stewardship of SpaceX.
Work has already begun to allow for the launch of the first Falcon Heavy from the famous pad next year.
The iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) still has the same appearance from the outside, but within its cavernous expanses work has been ongoing for some time to realign, remove and update its giant platforms, from being able to mate Shuttle hardware to one that can allow for the integration of the huge elements that make up SLS.
Per its “Multi-user” brief, KSC will also be able to host the assembly of commercial rockets, with the utilization of several bays at the same time, should it be required.
At present, only SLS has been confirmed for using the VAB.
Another milestone towards the VAB’s new era was set in motion recently.
The huge facility – standing 525 feet tall and consisting of four High Bays and a transfer aisle – saw one of its giant cranes, that can span its upper reaches to transport hardware across its expanses, lowered to the ground for refurbishment.
“The VAB Transfer Aisle’s 175 ton crane was lowered to the Transfer Aisle floor and set on cribbage for modifications that will last into early December,” noted L2 KSC Status information.
“Modifications include motor replacements for the primary and secondary motors, lead paint abatement, cab upgrades and wheel bearing mods. The 175 T crane will be lifted back into place in mid December.”
The VAB is also undergoing a revamp of its fire systems and other infrastructure elements, upgrading the building to be ready to support what is expected to be several more decades of operations.
“The ML is undergoing a major upgrade in support of the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program. Construction activities at the ML east park site require the area to be designated a construction zone,” added L2 Status.
This work is mainly related to changing the launch mount that was designed for the Ares I. A new mount will be used for SLS, along with several other design changes to cater for the monster rocket.
This includes the array of umbilical connections that will be mated to SLS in the VAB, prior to the ML and rocket being “plugged in” at Pad 39B when they arrive for their debut launch in 2018.
The Orbiter Processing Facilities (OPFs) are also finding themselves back in the mix of spacecraft processing, with OPF-3 well on the way towards hosting Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft – in turn changing call signs 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
Work in the OPF has involved the removal of the large platforms that once surrounded Shuttle orbiters being removed to create a clean floor environment for the processing of CST-100 capsules, ahead of their trip to mate with Atlas V rockets.
CST-100 will also gain a new neighbor, following the announcement this week that the US Air Force’s X-37B spacecraft will make use of OPF’s 1 and 2.
The two OPFs are adjoining, removing the issue of a military vehicle living next door to a commercial spacecraft – as much as that could have been catered for, as noted during the period where SNC’s Dream Chaser was expected to take up residency in one of the OPFs.
From an administration standpoint, KSC’s offices are also in the midst of being upgraded for the future.
Known as the Central Campus makeover, the project will take place in several phases. The primary project in phase 1 is the ultra-modern Headquarters Building, a seven-story, 200,000-square-foot structure. The building is being designed to house about 500 people.
Additional work is also ongoing around KSC, with the upgrading of bridges that allow access to the spaceport.
“Kennedy is positioning itself for the future, transitioning to a multi-user launch facility for both commercial and government customers, while embarking on NASA’s new deep-space exploration plans,” noted Kennedy Center Director Robert Cabana.
“A dynamic infrastructure is taking shape, designed to host many kinds of spacecraft and rockets.”
(Images: Via NASA and L2 content)
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