Bob Granath and Rebecca Regan,
John F. Kennedy Space Center
Whether there are rocket boosters arriving by rail or barge, motors and space station supplies by truck, or satellites and spacecraft by plane, NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida is bustling with new spaceport activities. U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) representatives learned March 27 that Florida's Space Coast is a hub for intermodal space transportation.
During a day of briefings and tours hosted by Space Florida, an aerospace economic development agency, the transportation group learned about how the state is working to grow and diversify its aerospace industry.
"We serve as the state's spaceport authority, just like an airport or seaport authority," said Frank DiBello, president and chief executive officer of Space Florida. "We are also responsible for development and growth of the aerospace industry in the state."
DiBello noted that although the citrus industry and tourism are key components of Florida's economy, there are 11,638 aerospace companies in the state with 132,140 employees bringing in more than $17.7 billion in revenue.
If all goes as planned, Kennedy and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which sits adjacent to the space center, will become multiuser spaceports, and could be the launch sites for new commercial markets in low-Earth orbit as well as NASA missions to deep-space destinations, such as Mars or asteroids.
"In the next 25 years you will see a significant increase in the amount of activity that is going on in low-Earth orbit," DiBello said. "People will be going up there to look at things, to do research, to move things around, to refuel them, to fix them, repair them, refurbish, all kinds of activities up there, including adventure tourism."
Trey Carlson of the Center Planning and Development Directorate at Kennedy presented elements of NASA's master plan to the FHWA and FDOT representatives. Carlson, who is Kennedy's master planner, said the agency currently is studying how best to use the facilities available at the center.
"Kennedy-built infrastructure is what has enabled us to do the great things that have defined our national pride," Carlson said. "It allowed us to achieve a manned lunar landing with the Saturn V launching from LC-39. We then transformed the center at the end of the Apollo Program for the Space Shuttle Program, leading to the construction of the International Space Station."
Carlson explained that Kennedy is, once again, making great strides to transform as evolves from an historically government-only launch facility to a multiuser spaceport for both government and commercial customers.
"We are in a period of transition again," he said. "We now are developing a spaceport that supports both NASA's Space Launch System and other commercial operations."
The Space Launch System is an advanced, heavy-lift rocket that will provide the capability for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit. At the same time, NASA is working in partnership with the nation's aerospace industry to develop space transportation systems that can launch astronauts safely to the International Space Station.
"Our motto now is 'a new way of doing business for a new generation of explorers,' " Carlson said.
The transportation group then traveled to Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility before heading to the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) to talk with representatives from NASA, The Boeing Company and Space Florida about the ongoing work to modernize the former orbiter processing facility for commercial space activities. FDOT helped fund part of Space Florida's work at C3PF.
"We removed almost 1,200 tons of steel and other material from this facility in about four months, 93 percent of which was recycled," said Mark Bontrager, vice president of Space Florida Spaceport Operations. "All of that infrastructure just wasn't useful anymore. It was designed for the shuttle, and now we're embarking on the next phase of commercializing this facility during the next few months."
By giving the facility a sleek, clean-floor look, companies that are partnered with NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP), such as Boeing with its CST-100 spacecraft, could begin manufacturing and processing for flights planned to launch around the middle of the decade.
The group's last stop was Space Launch Complex-40 at the Cape, where SpaceX already is launching cargo vessels to the space station for NASA and is planning to launch crews in the future. Just a mile and a half away, at Space Launch Complex-41, Boeing's CST-100 and Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Dream Chaser would launch crews atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
"Today, we're actually spending a significant amount of money to fly our astronauts on a non-U.S.-based vehicle," said Gennaro Caliendo, CCP's partner manager for Boeing. "It's effective, very safe, it works, but it's just not what we want to do as an agency, it's not what we want to do as a country. We want to bring that capability back here."