NASA Kennedy Space Center 2011 Review, Look Ahead
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- In 2011, NASA's Kennedy Space Center helped launch a new era in space exploration, building on the final three missions of the Space Shuttle Program era.
Kennedy began transitioning from a historically government-only launch facility, which supported shuttle missions and construction of the International Space Station, to a multi-purpose spaceport, supporting research and development aboard the space station and serving different types of missions, rockets, and spacecraft, both governmental and commercial.
As NASA's prime launch complex responsible for sending humans and payloads to space, Kennedy teams were involved in launching nine missions this year: six on expendable launch vehicles and the last three space shuttle flights ever.
The first of the final three shuttle flights started on Feb. 24 with Discovery's STS-133 mission roaring off Launch Pad 39A. The shuttle and its six astronauts delivered to the International Space Station the last pressurized U.S. segment called the Permanent Multipurpose Module. Discovery, the longest-serving veteran of NASA's space shuttle fleet, landed at Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility on March 9, completing a total of 39 missions since 1984.
Space shuttle Endeavour's final flight, the STS-134 mission, originally was scheduled to launch in late April. It was a high-profile launch, not only because it was the second to last shuttle mission, but because the wife of Endeavour Commander Mark Kelly, Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords, and President Obama and the first family were in attendance. But an electrical wiring issue kept Endeavour on Launch Pad 39A until May 16, when the shuttle and its six-astronaut crew lifted off to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 (AMS) and critical supplies to the space station. NASA's youngest shuttle returned to Kennedy on June 1, completing its 25th and final mission.
The last space shuttle flight, Atlantis' STS-135 mission, launched from Launch Pad 39A at 11:29 a.m. EDT on July 8 carrying the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module full of supplies, experiments and key spare parts for the space station. On July 21 at 5:57 a.m., Atlantis touched down at Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility, concluding 30 years of storied space shuttle missions. The Space Shuttle Program officially ended on Aug. 30.
And instead of preparing shuttles for space flights, technicians now are preparing them for public display. On April 12, the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle launch, NASA announced where the shuttles would be displayed: In 2012, NASA will deliver shuttle Discovery to the Smithsonian in Virginia; test shuttle Enterprise to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York; and shuttle Endeavour to the California Science Center in Los Angeles. In early 2013, Atlantis, which is the only space shuttle NASA is retaining, will go to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
NASA's Launch Services Program (LSP), which is based at Kennedy, had a rough start to its launch year. The Glory spacecraft failed to reach orbit after liftoff aboard an Orbital Sciences' Taurus XL rocket on March 4 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. A mishap board is investigating the failure; however, telemetry indicated the fairing, a protective shell atop the satellite's rocket, did not separate as expected. Glory was intended to improve scientists' understanding of how the sun and tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols affect Earth's climate.
On June 10, LSP was back on track with the launch of NASA's Aquarius/SAC-D observatory aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket. The international satellite lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base carrying the agency-built Aquarius instrument that will measure the saltiness of Earth's oceans to advance our understanding of the global water cycle in order to improve climate forecasts.
LSP turned its attention to deep space with its next launch. On Aug. 5, NASA's Juno spacecraft launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., bound for Jupiter. After its five-year flight, Juno will look deep beneath the planet's swirling curtain of clouds to find out what lies beneath.
A United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket successfully sent NASA's twin moon-bound Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft on their way on Sept. 10. After arriving next week on New Year's weekend, the two solar-powered spacecraft will fly in tandem orbits around the moon to measure its gravity field and answer longstanding questions about the moon and how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed.
On Oct. 28, a Delta II rocket sent the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) spacecraft into Earth orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base. NPP is the first NASA satellite mission to address the challenge of acquiring a wide range of land, ocean and atmospheric measurements for Earth system science while simultaneously preparing to address operational requirements for weather forecasting.
LSP ended its 2011 launch schedule by sending the most sophisticated robotic explorer ever built to another planet. On Nov. 26, an Atlas V rocket launched NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), which carries a car-sized rover named Curiosity, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Curiosity is scheduled to arrive at Mars in August 2012 and begin two years of study with its 10 science instruments to search for evidence about whether the Red Planet has had environments favorable for microbial life, including the chemical ingredients for life. The unique rover will use a laser to look inside rocks and release the gasses so that its spectrometer can analyze and send the data back to Earth.
While many Kennedy personnel were busy launching spacecraft and rockets in 2011, others were working on preparing to launch new spacecraft and rockets in the future. And with those new launch systems, new jobs will come to the Space Coast. On Sept. 14, NASA announced it had selected the design of a new Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket that will send the agency's astronauts farther into space than ever before, such as asteroids and Mars, and provide the cornerstone for America's future human space exploration efforts. The SLS with NASA's new Orion spacecraft, which already is under development, on top is set to lift off from Kennedy's Launch Pad 39B in 2017.
Deconstruction of pad 39B from being a space shuttle pad was completed in August, and now is being prepared for SLS and Orion and possibly commercial rockets and spacecraft. As part of that, a new comprehensive weather instrumentation system was installed there in April providing up-to-the-second and extremely accurate measurements at several locations and altitudes. The improvements are expected to produce increasingly detailed launch criteria that could lead to more on-time liftoffs for a variety of rockets in the future.
SLS and Orion programs plan to use NASA's new mobile launcher (ML) to help start their voyages into deep space. Initial construction of the 355-foot-tall launch tower was completed in 2010. A year later, teams used a crawler-transporter to move the ML to Launch Pad 39B for two weeks of engineering tests in November. The data will help with the ML modifications needed to support the SLS and Orion.
As NASA's deep space human exploration program was taking shape in 2011, the parallel path of using commercial companies to bring cargo and then astronauts to the International Space Station also started picking up steam. NASA's new Commercial Crew Program (CCP) hit the ground running this year with the goal of assisting in the development of a United States-led commercial space system aiming to launch astronauts to the station and other future low Earth orbit destinations by about the middle of the decade. CCP is primarily based at Kennedy, which is a first for the center in NASA's human spaceflight programs.
CCP has had a busy inaugural year. In April, NASA awarded approximately $270 million to four commercial companies to continue development of commercial rockets and spacecraft in the second phase of its Commercial Crew Development effort, known as CCDev2.
Also during the course of the year, CCP signed unfunded Space Act Agreements with three other companies under CCDev2. NASA will review and provide expert feedback to those companies on overall concepts and designs, systems requirements, launch vehicle compatibility, testing and integration plans, and operational and facilities plans.
In the last several years leading up to the Space Shuttle Program's retirement, Kennedy management has emphasized that partnering is the key to the center's future. In 2011, Kennedy's Center Planning and Development Office was involved in discussions on about 80 agreements, many of which are partnerships with commercial companies. For example, in July, NASA and Sierra Nevada Corp., a CCDev2 company, entered into a Space Act Agreement that will offer the company technical capabilities from Kennedy's uniquely skilled work force. In August, a non-reimbursable umbrella agreement was signed between NASA and K.T. Engineering that aims to help the agency acquire the knowledge necessary to develop a multi-user ground system architecture for launching nontraditional, low-cost vehicles. And in October, NASA announced a partnership with Space Florida to occupy, use and modify Kennedy's Orbiter Processing Facility-3 (OPF-3), the Space Shuttle Main Engine Processing Facility and Processing Control Center. Space Florida, the aerospace economic development agency of the state of Florida, is leasing OPF-3 to The Boeing Company to manufacture and test the company's Crew Space Transportation (CST-100) spacecraft. In addition, Boeing, which also is a CCDev2 company, announced it is basing its Commercial Crew Program headquarters at Kennedy.
Even with U.S. construction of the International Space Station complete, support for the orbiting facility from Kennedy received a boost on Sept. 9. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) was awarded management of the portion of the station that is operated as a U.S. national laboratory. CASIS will base its efforts at the Space Life Sciences Laboratory at Kennedy and help ensure the station's unique capabilities are made available to the broadest possible cross-section of U.S. scientific, technological and industrial communities.
In August, Kennedy formed the Ground Processing Directorate to support operations management, as well as strategies and techniques to launch a variety of rockets and spacecraft from Kennedy in the future. Ground Processing represents Kennedy's efforts to become less program-centric and more capability-centric to provide technical services to diverse government and non-government customers.
Cooperation and partnerships were key themes discussed on Oct. 18 when Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll and cabinet members toured Kennedy's Operations and Checkout Building, where final assembly of NASA's Orion spacecraft will take place. Gov. Scott expressed a desire to find new projects and initiatives in the coming years in which Florida and NASA could work together.
Kennedy also continued expanding its green efforts in 2011. In January, the center unveiled its newest environmentally friendly building, the Propellants North Administrative and Maintenance Facility. Propellants North qualified for the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, Platinum status, which is the highest of green building certifications. As expected, throughout the year the facility produced more of its own energy that it used.
In November, Kennedy also hosted the third forum in the LAUNCH initiative, which is designed to identify and support innovative work that will contribute to a sustainable future. Like the two previous forums, which also were held at Kennedy, NASA along with the other founder partners, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. State Department and Nike, brought experts together to focus on a sustainability topic. In this year's case, it was "energy."
On May 5, more than 200 workers from the original Mercury Program joined NASA senior management on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for a re-creation of Alan Shepard's flight and recovery to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. manned spaceflight.
And in the summer of 2012, NASA's Kennedy Space Center will celebrate its own 50th anniversary. As the United States begins this new approach to human spaceflight, using commercial and government methods of exploring space, Kennedy aims to continue to play an integral role in NASA's and America's scientific research and discoveries for the next half century and beyond.
For more information about NASA's Kennedy Space Center and the missions and programs it supports, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/kennedy
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