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Kennedy Space Center Hosts New Ground Processing Directorate
08.18.11
 
Kennedy's Launch Complex 39

Image: Kennedy Space Center's new Ground Processing Directorate (GPD) will manage various future launch processing in some of the center's facilities, such as the Vehicle Assembly Building and launch pads in the Launch Complex 39 area. Photo credit: NASA
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NASA's new mobile launcher

Image: Kennedy Space Center's new Ground Processing Directorate (GPD) anticipates the new 355-foot-tall mobile launcher being used for future rocket launches. Photo credit: NASA/Tony Gray
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International Space Station spare part

Image: Kennedy Space Center's new Ground Processing Directorate (GPD) will support the processing of spare parts, research and other cargo for launch to the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann
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NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida grew by one directorate recently as the Ground Processing Directorate (GPD) came into being Aug. 14. The organization will support operations management, as well as strategies and techniques to launch what could be a variety of rockets and spacecraft from Kennedy in the future.

The directorate will focus mainly on projects with NASA's new Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, which covers operations supporting the International Space Station orbital replacement unit (spare parts), supplies and research processing, Shuttle Transition and Retirement, Launch Services Program, along with support to the 21st Century Ground Systems Program and the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket. The directorate also will work with the Center Planning and Development Office for host support to potential and new center customers, and integration of launch complex operations.

"Our criteria is that within the first year our customer and partners view us as a valuable member of their team," said Scott Kerr, the director of Ground Processing. He said the ultimate goal for the directorate is to support the emergence of a broad-based launch business.

This will be the first time a processing team for an astronaut-carrying spacecraft and rocket will have to be geared toward more than one design. In the past, the agency focused on one kind of rocket and spacecraft, then moved on to another.

"There is a paradigm shift," said Pete Nickolenko, the deputy director of Ground Processing.

Now, several companies anticipate building spacecraft to take astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station, and those vehicles are expected to be flying in the same timeframe.

"The variety and breadth of what's emerging is very exciting," Kerr said. "It's going to be a lot different world."

That means Kennedy's unique facilities, including the Vehicle Assembly Building, could host several different companies at the same time, all working with NASA to process boosters and spacecraft. He also anticipates a rocket launching from the new 355-foot-tall mobile launcher in the future.

"We know the configurations of the rockets that are being evaluated and considered by the agency, it's just a matter of which one they choose," Kerr said. "We'll then align with the development teams to go build and operate the infrastructure to support it. There's no significant technical problem. We don't have to develop any exotic technologies to support what we believe is coming down the pike."

The group's first task is to make sure nothing slips past them as they make their transition forming the new operation.

"We've been around for 10 hours," Kerr joked. "It's mainly been spent seeing if we dropped anything through the cracks."

The first week of the directorate's life is being spent making contacts with the customers the organization will work with, Kerr said.

"It's important for us to develop strong, cohesive relationships and establish that framework for how we're going to work with our many different customers," Nickolenko said.

Kennedy brings a unique experience to the ground support program by virtue of launching astronauts into space for 50 years aboard capsules, moon-bound spacecraft and the space shuttle.

Although the rocket designs are different in the details, Kerr said they all have some fundamental needs and operate on chemicals that NASA has been handling safely for decades.

"The technology has changed a lot in certain areas and in other areas it hasn't changed at all," Kerr said. "We need to focus on doing it all safely."

Kerr comes to the Ground Processing Directorate from the International Space Station Program. He also worked in Kennedy's Engineering Directorate, Center Operations and the Launch Services Program.

"It certainly helps me because I've worked with most of the personnel at the center at one time or another," Kerr said.

The organization is made up of about 200 people from a variety of directorates including Launch Vehicle Processing, Launch Integration, International Space Station and Spacecraft Processing, Constellation Project Office, Engineering and other center organizations.

"We've got the right minds and we've got the right talents," Kerr said. "If you point them in the right direction and get out of their way, they can do some pretty amazing things."

 
 
Steven Siceloff
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center