2010 Year in Review
In 2010, Kennedy Space Center helped begin a new volume to the agency's space exploration book as the storied Space Shuttle Program entered into its final chapters.
Kennedy teams were involved in launching five missions last year; two on expendable launch vehicles and three on space shuttles. And on Dec. 8, SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). The flight was the first for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, which is developing commercial supply services to the International Space Station. It also was the first time a commercial company launched and returned a spacecraft to Earth.
Commercial companies going to low Earth orbit for both cargo and crewed missions were the focus of a new direction for NASA announced in February by the White House. That was followed up by a visit by President Obama to Kennedy on April 15 to outline details of his plans for the future of U.S. leadership in human spaceflight. The president committed NASA to a series of developmental goals leading to new spacecraft for reaching low Earth orbit and new technology for potential missions beyond the moon.
NASA's Launch Services Program (LSP) based at Kennedy started its year on Feb. 11 by sending the agency’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) into space aboard an Atlas V rocket from Launch Complex-41 at CCAFS. SDO is a first-of-its-kind mission to reveal the sun's inner workings in unprecedented detail.
Less than a month later, NASA's latest Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, or GOES-P, lifted off aboard a Delta IV rocket from Space Launch Complex-37 at CCAFS. The latest National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite joined four other similar spacecraft to improve weather forecasting and monitoring of environmental events.
Just three days before the LSP's first flight of 2010, the Space Shuttle Program launched its first of three missions aboard shuttle Endeavour on Feb. 8. STS-130's six astronauts delivered the Tranquility node and cupola to the International Space Station (ISS) during the two-week flight.
On April 5, space shuttle Discovery launched on its STS-131 mission to deliver science experiments, equipment and supplies to the space station. Discovery and its seven-member astronaut crew landed at Kennedy 15 days later.
What turned out to be the final shuttle mission of the year, STS-132, lifted off on May 14. Shuttle Atlantis and its six astronauts delivered the Russian-built Mini Research Module, cargo and critical spare parts to the station. Atlantis touched down at Kennedy after the 12-day mission.
STS-132 was the last scheduled spaceflight for Atlantis. Currently, it's planned to be used
as the "launch on need," or potential rescue mission for the final scheduled shuttle flight, Endeavour's STS-134 mission. Among the new directions in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 passed by Congress in September and signed by President Obama in October was the approval to turn Atlantis' planned rescue mission into an actual flight to the space station this summer. NASA intends to fly this flight pending resolution of funding considerations.
The STS-133 mission will add the final pressurized module to the U.S. portion of the ISS is set to be the first flight of 2011. A hydrogen gas leak on Discovery's external fuel tank scrubbed a Nov. 5 launch attempt. On Dec. 22, Discovery was rolled off Launch Pad 39A and back into the Vehicle Assembly Building for more tank analysis and modifications.
Kennedy management also focused on bringing new commercial companies to the space center. In June, the official groundbreaking ceremony for NASA and Space Florida's new technology and commerce park, known as Exploration Park at Kennedy, was held outside the Space Life Sciences Laboratory. Exploration Park is designed to bring new aerospace work to the area and support space-related activities of NASA, other government agencies and the U.S. commercial space industry. They also set up a new Center Planning and Development Office to enhance the economic vitality of Kennedy.
After supporting its last space shuttle in 2009, Kennedy's Launch Pad 39B began being deconstructed this year to convert it from a shuttle launch pad to a commercial launch site that could host multiple launch vehicles. Phase one of NASA's new mobile launcher was completed this year, too. The 355-foot-tall tower could be converted to support commercial launch vehicles or possibly even large heavy-lift rockets.
Four years worth of upgrades to Kennedy's Launch Equipment Test Facility also were completed this summer. The LETF, which has fixtures that can simulate launch conditions, can support the Space Shuttle Program in its final months, as well as the Launch Services Program and commercial companies in the coming years.
To support the agency's new direction, the Space Transportation Planning Office was established at Kennedy to help develop a commercial capability to low Earth orbit leading to astronaut launch services that NASA could buy to the International Space Station in the 2015 time frame. The 21st Century Space Launch Complex program was established to help modernize Kennedy's infrastructure and facilities and transform them from a space shuttle launch port into a multipurpose launch complex. Kennedy also is working on technology demonstration spaceflight plans that will support NASA's new long-term exploration goals.
To help with the shuttle program retirement, Kennedy held two large-scale jobs fairs last year, one in May and the other in September, along with months of career-building courses and other work force support efforts. The Federal Aviation Administration also began establishing an office at Kennedy this year to help support the commercial human launch services endeavor.
Kennedy also expanded its "green space" efforts in 2010. On April 8, NASA, Florida Power & Light (FPL) and political leaders commissioned FPL's Space Coast Next Generation Solar Energy Center. In December, Kennedy's new Propellants North Administration and Maintenance Facility was reopened for business. It will be one of NASA's "greenest" facility, expected to achieve the U.S. Green Building Counci'ls Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) Platinum status, the highest rating. And this summer, Kennedy helped with the unprecedented effort to save wildlife from the effects of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Hundreds of endangered sea turtle eggs were brought to a hatchery at Kennedy and then the baby turtles were released into the Atlantic Ocean.
On the education front, NASA's first Lunabotics Mining Competition, hosted by Kennedy's Education Programs and University Research Division, drew more than 20 university teams to design and build remote controlled or autonomous excavators, called lunabots, on May 28. The 2011 competition is expected to be even bigger.
And just like the Lunabotics Competition, Kennedy will build on the success and learn from the challenges of 2010 to make 2011 one for the history books.
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center