Orbital ATK eye VAB and MLP for potential EELV-class rocket

by Chris Bergin

Orbital ATK and NASA have entered into an agreement to begin negotiations over the potential use of High Bay 2 inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). The discussions, which also include the use of a former Shuttle Mobile Launch Platform (MLP), are being aligned towards Orbital ATK’s future possibilities involving the development of an EELV-class Next Generation Launch vehicle.


The launch vehicle integration facility was built in 1965 to support assembly of Apollo/Saturn vehicles and modified to support the Space Shuttle Program.

2015-06-16-232028The VAB features four High Bays, each with approximately 27,435 square feet of floor space and an internal height of 456 feet.

The iconic building 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. However, it is hoped commercial vehicles will take up space inside High Bay 2 (HB-2) – including those aiming to launch from Pad 39C (within Pad 39B) – with interested parties told they need to register their interest by mid-2016.

The first sign of those requests turning into reality was noted on Thursday when NASA released information that it has selected Orbital ATK to begin negotiations on an agreement to use High Bay 2.

“Over the past few years, the people of Kennedy have worked diligently to transform the center. We are now a true multi-user spaceport supporting a variety of different partners successfully,” said Bob Cabana, Kennedy director.

“We look forward to working with Orbital ATK in the future to help expand the capabilities of this unique, historic asset.”

2015-06-16-231100VAB HB2 – located on the west side of the facility – holds potential as a launch vehicle processing, integration, and testing bay for commercial space operations. HB2 has historically been used for storage, vertical integration, and stacking of spacecraft.

A commercial space launch company could use HB2 in support of its space launch services while assuming financial and technical responsibility for operations and maintenance (O&M), thus reducing some of the costs for NASA.

The Kennedy Space Center’s Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) program had also noted they expected to transition its three MLPs.

2015-06-16-231136Previous plans showed MLP-1 was set to retire, MLP-2 was to be dedicated to a liquid fueled vehicle – such as Atlas V, while MLP-3 could be used by a Solid Rocket Motor vehicle – such as the Liberty rocket.

Since those plans were created, Atlas V’s days have since been numbered, as the United Launch Alliance (ULA) focus on switching to its Vulcan rocket, while the Liberty rocket – which originally planned to use the Ares I Mobile Launcher before that transitioned into the ownership of SLS – has been shelved.

This has resulted in all three MLPs being offered to potential customers, with alterations to the hardware to be made after they are acquired.

The Orbital ATK negotiations will include taking one of the MLPs.

2016-04-21-235421Should the negotiations proceed to plan under the prospective property use agreement, Orbital ATK will embed the deal into the company’s preliminary planning supporting the possible development of an EELV-class Next Generation Launch vehicle system, which is one of three long-term growth initiatives recently announced by the company.

Little is known about Orbital ATK’s NGL vehicle, not least due to its preliminary nature, although it is assumed it will utilize two solid first stages formed from Advanced SRB segments, topped by a hydrolox upper stage.

The company also added the potential agreement with KSC does not affect its medium-class Antares rocket’s home port, which is located at Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia.

“Orbital ATK has a long history of working with NASA’s Kennedy Space Center,” added Scott Lehr, President of Orbital ATK’s Flight Systems Group. “We are excited about the possibility of utilizing KSC facilities for a future EELV-class launch system.”

(Images: Via NASA and L2 – including Orbital ATK NGL render from L2 artist Nathan Koga – The full hi-res gallery of Nathan’s (SpaceX Dragon to MCT, SLS, Commercial Crew and more) L2 images can be *found here*)

(To join L2, click here: http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/l2/)

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