The mobile launcher underwent structural and systems testing at Launch Pad 39B. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
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An artist concept of the Space Launch System rocket standing inside the Vehicle Assembly Building on the mobile launcher. Image credit: NASA
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An artist concept of the launchers and spacecraft under development for flights from Kennedy. Image credit: NASA
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The logo for the new 21st Century Ground Systems Program based at Kennedy. Image credit: NASA
› Larger image The program tasked with setting up NASA's Kennedy Space Center to host an array of launchers and spacecraft passed a milestone last week when the 21st Century Ground Systems Program's Mission Concept Review was completed.
"It gets all of our stakeholders on board," said Scott Colloredo, the chief architect for the 21st Century Ground Systems Program. "We feel good about it."
The program is one of two new programs for Kennedy that basically opened their doors in the past year or so. The other is the Commercial Crew Program. They join the center's other program, the Launch Services Program, which moved to Kennedy in 1998.
The 21st Century Ground Systems Program is a big step for NASA and Kennedy in that it is set up to accommodate a number of rockets with new techniques and parcel out the center's extensive array of facilities to several users.
Launch Pad 39B is envisioned as a site that could see the liftoff of a Space Launch System super rocket one week, an Atlas V the next and a private rocket the week after that.
Previously, the launch infrastructure was a project that was tied strongly to an individual launcher and spacecraft.
"We've kind of graduated from a project to a program," Colloredo said. "It's exciting in a lot of ways. It's tough."
The organization has already made numerous decisions about what roles landmark facilities at Kennedy will play in future launches, although there are many more choices to make. For example, the Space Launch System under development will only need one high bay in the Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, along with one mobile launcher. So, the new program is working with other rocket companies that want to use other bays in the VAB for their own processing work.
"There are a lot of big decisions that are going to impact for a generation."
When the program officials are considering what changes to make to Kennedy facilities, they place a premium on keeping options open so as many launchers as possible can use a given facility. When Launch Pad 39B was refurbished, for example, the result was a "clean pad" with no fixed servicing tower and permanent clean room, both of which were there to support the space shuttles.
Instead, designers made room for the things every launcher will need, such as a water sound suppression system, electronics and data links and a flame trench to funnel exhaust away from the rocket.
"We want to be flexible, evolving, as multi-use as possible," Colloredo said. "The clean pad approach was a big part of that."
The redone Launch Pad 39B got a glimpse of the future recently when workers moved the 355-foot-tall mobile launcher into place for tests. After two weeks at the pad, theML was driven back to its park site beside the Vehicle Assembly Building atop one of the two crawler-transporters.
The structural testing and systems checks on the ML went well, Colloredo said.
"It's the first time we've done something like that in a long time," he said. "The clean pad functioned like we thought it would."
The mobile launcher took two years to build and it will go through some modifications to host the Space Launch System, or SLS. The SLS is NASA's booster that is being developed to launch astronauts to an asteroid, the moon and other deep space destinations.
The SLS also is a modular rocket, so components of the system can be mixed and matched to suit the payload and mission. Therefore, the engineers are making the mobile launcher able to host five different versions of the SLS.
The SLS and ML are expected to remain at the pad for only five days before launch, a far cry from the weeks a shuttle would spend there getting ready for liftoff.
There will be a certain tie between the ML and the shuttle pads, Colloredo said. The orbiter access arm used at Launch Pad 39A is going to be used as the crew access arm on the ML, meaning that astronauts getting into NASA's Orion spacecraft will stride down the same metal walkway the shuttle astronauts used.
With the mission concept review completed and the testing on the ML successful, Colloredo said the 21st Century Ground Systems Program is starting to show results from the months of work, studies and decisions that have been under way.
"There's a lot of work going on that a lot of people don't realize," he said.