The Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) has finally completed the installation of a large set of huge work platforms that will allow for the stacking of the Space Launch System (SLS) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). The work involved the removal of the old Shuttle hardware, ahead of the installation of 10 levels of platforms.
The end of the Shuttle Program marked an opportunity to modernize and transform the building ahead of its next role with the monster rocket, SLS.
The launch vehicle integration facility is no stranger to huge rockets after it was built in 1965 to support assembly of Apollo/Saturn vehicles and modified to support the Space Shuttle Program.
The 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.
High Bay 2 (HB2) – located on the west side of the building – is being touted as the home for a new commercial rocket in the future, cited as being able to host launch vehicle processing, integration, and testing bay for commercial space operations.
HB2 has historically been used for storage, vertical integration, and stacking of spacecraft.
High Bay 3 (HB3) is the home for the SLS, where it will be stacked ahead of missions involving Orion – which will also be integrated with SLS in HB3 – and other payloads.
It’s taken over a year to complete the installation of the huge platforms that will surround SLS during her first VAB processing flow in 2018.
NASA had originally awarded a contract to modify High Bay 3 to the Hensel Phelps Construction Co in March 2014, before work began in early 2016. Hensel Phelps, along with its partners, supported crane operations, lifting, installation and initial inspection of each of the platforms.
Engineers began installation of the first halves, the K-level platforms, about a year ago, followed by the J, H and G platforms. In July 2016, platform installation reached the halfway point, with the fifth of ten levels of platforms, the F-level, completed.
The remaining platforms installed are E, D, C, B and A. Each of the platform levels is strategically located to allow technicians and engineer’s access to different systems on the integrated rocket.
The installation of the final topmost level completed the 10 levels of work platforms, 20 platforms halves altogether.
The platforms were mated with two, 60,000-pound rail beam assemblies that allow the platforms to move towards and away from the vehicle, as well as tie the entire system to the VAB structure. Each platform will ride on four Hillman roller systems on each side.
NASA noted that during a flow, the process to lift and install each of the platforms takes about four hours. Each platform weighs more than 300,000 pounds and measures about 38 feet long and close to 62 feet wide.
“Just a year ago, we were meeting the challenges of getting the first half of the first platform installed,” said Mike Bolger, Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) Program manager.
“It’s a great testament to the creativity, persistence and hard work of the team, and it’s a terrific indicator that GSDO is on track to process the SLS and Orion flight hardware for the first test mission.”
The final platform to be installed was “A North”. The A platforms will provide access to the Orion spacecraft’s Launch Abort System (LAS) for Orion lifting sling removal and installation of the closeout panels. LAS Antenna Testing also is performed on this level.
“I am very proud of the amount of work that the team accomplished. I am also humbled to have been able to lead this group of amazing people who have been able to complete this very complex and challenging project,” added Jose Perez Morales, GSDO VAB Element senior project manager.
“I am very pleased with all the work performed by the NASA and contractor team.”
The VAB has gained a number of additional modifications, ranging from the fire suppression system through to the refurbishment of one of its giant cranes that can span its upper reaches to transport hardware across its expanses.
The VAB Transfer Aisle’s 175-ton crane was lowered to the Transfer Aisle floor and set on cribbage for modifications that included motor replacements for the primary and secondary motors, lead paint abatement, cab upgrades and wheel bearing mods. It has since returned to its lofty home in the upper reaches of the VAB.
SLS is currently scheduled to conduct her maiden launch in 2018, although this is fully expected to slip deep into 2019 at the next major review at the SLS Program level (L2).
(Images via NASA and L2).