NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center
NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift launch vehicle will be carried to Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop an upgraded mobile launcher (ML) for missions to near-Earth asteroids, Mars and other new destinations in the solar system.
The agency has awarded a contract to J.P. Donovan Construction Inc. of Rockledge, Fla., to modify the ML, which is one of the key elements of ground support equipment that is being upgraded by the Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) Program office at Kennedy to carry the SLS rocket for its first mission in 2017.
The work under the firm fixed-price contact will begin at the end of this month and is targeted to be completed in 18 months.
"Completing more of the work sooner will create more time to validate systems later as the first launch date approaches for the new SLS vehicle," said Mike Canicatti, the technical integration manager in the GSDO Program office at Kennedy.
The mobile launcher that currently is positioned near the Vehicle Assembly Building originally was constructed in 2008 and 2009 and now it will be structurally modified to meet requirements for NASA's new mission.
The major work to be completed under this contract is widening the exhaust space in the mobile launcher base to support two solid rocket boosters and four main engines. Essentially, the exhaust hole will be increased from an approximate 24-by-24-foot space to a 32-by-65-foot space.
Upgrades to the mobile launcher are part of Kennedy's efforts to expand its ground support infrastructure to support the SLS rocket and a variety of other launch vehicles.
When this contract is completed, another contract will begin to install the umbilicals, access arm and other ground support equipment on the mobile launcher.
"We're on a tight schedule to get everything in place on the mobile launcher and check 47 different subsystems," Canicatti said.
Midwest Steel Inc. of Detroit will be a major subcontractor to J.P. Donovan Construction.
The flight test in 2017 will send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft into lunar orbit. NASA's asteroid initiative, which is part of the agency's proposed budget request for fiscal year 2014, will use SLS and Orion to send astronauts to study a small asteroid that will have been redirected robotically to a stable orbit near the moon.