Launch Pad 39B Morphing to Make More Memories
As the starting line for human expeditions to the moon, the Russian Mir space station, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, the International Space Station and two Return to Flight missions for the Space Shuttle Program, the history of Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39B is just beginning.
As most of the pad's huge steel structures come down piece by piece, it may seem as though its nearly 45-year-old career is coming to an end, but the pad's senior manager, Jose Perez-Morales, said it is going through a major metamorphosis to support a new set of launch vehicles.
"Most of the systems that we are installing out at pad B are ground systems," Perez-Morales told media on Nov. 1. "That means we can support basically any vehicle that will come to the pad on a mobile launcher, or our new mobile launcher."
The transformation includes the removal of the rotating service structure (RSS), fixed service structure (FSS) and weather protection system, which were added in the mid-70s to support the unique needs of the shuttle program. The demolition of those structures will happen gradually, though, because the company taking them down, LVI Environmental Services Inc., is prohibited from using explosives.
"We wanted to protect the concrete surface of the pad," Perez-Morales said. "So everything is being cut and brought down to the floor."
As a double-layer of protection, Perez-Morales said steel plates and large wooden mats will protect the surface from falling debris.
Earlier this year, United Space Alliance and Abacus Technology Corp. stripped the pad of its electronic racks and about 1.3 million feet of cabling. Perez-Morales said the process to replace the archaic copper wiring with more-advanced fiber optic wires already has begun. The pad's iconic orbiter access arm and gaseous oxygen (GOX) vent arm have been acquired by Kennedy's visitor complex for future exhibits.
Current work includes the refurbishment of the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen storage tanks that reside on opposite sides of the pad perimeter.
"The work we're doing to the tanks will extend their operational lifetime by about 20 years," Perez-Morales said.
Three new lightning towers, constructed by Ivey's Construction Inc. of Merritt Island, Fla., that were in place for the Ares I-X flight test in October 2009 will remain. Perez-Morales said in the future each tower will be outfitted with four levels of weather monitoring systems as well as high-speed cameras to keep track of lightning strikes.
"The towers are about 600 feet tall and we designed them to support a vehicle as tall as the Vehicle Assembly Building doors," Perez-Morales said. "If a launch vehicle can be processed and rolled out of the VAB, these towers can protect it on the pad."
Another possible visible addition to the pad will be a new emergency egress system, which Perez-Morales said resembles a roller coaster. Other work could include new brickwork in the pad's flame trench.
All of these changes are expected to support NASA's future expeditions, including commercial-developed vehicles that will take the space agency's astronauts to low Earth orbit and NASA-developed heavy-lift vehicles that will take humankind to destinations farther than the moon.
Ed Mango, NASA's Space Transportation Planning Office director, was the Launch Director for Ares I-X and said he's confident Launch Pad 39B hasn't finished making history with the completion of that successful flight test.
"The next time we launch a new U.S.-built, human-rated spacecraft it will be led from right here at KSC," Mango said while standing on the crawlerway in front of pad B.
Mango compares the work being done at the pad and the planning stages of the Commercial Crew Development efforts that he is leading at Kennedy to a football analogy.
"For those that understand football, right now we are in the pre-season," Mango said. "Development stages will be the regular season, flight tests will be the playoffs and when we launch a NASA crew to the International Space Station . . . that'll be the Super Bowl."
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center