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Constellation Program to Transform Kennedy's Landscape
Don't believe your eyes.

That may be the best advice to give anyone who gazes upon the Kennedy Space Center skyline in the coming months, and wonders when its appearance will transform for NASA's Constellation Program.

Operations and Checkout Building high bay conversion ceremony Image left: At a ceremony to commemorate the transition of the historic Operations and Checkout Building high bay for use by the Constellation Program, representatives from NASA, Lockheed Martin, Space Florida and the state of Florida stand under a banner, unfurled by Kennedy Space Center Director Bill Parsons, highlighting the Orion crew exploration vehicle that will be assembled in the facility. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
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It might appear at first glance that little has changed at Kennedy's facilities to prepare for launching the next generation of spacecraft that will take mankind back to the moon, then to Mars and beyond. But many of the most sweeping future advancements already are in motion.

Now, as the center celebrates its 45th successful year as the agency's launch operations center, those upcoming changes – including a revamped launch pad, a new mobile launcher and a different layout in the Vehicle Assembly Building – mainly involve improving existing facilities and concepts instead of creating new ones from scratch.

"We're trying to pretty much build on what we have, drawing from the best ideas out there," said Scott Colloredo, NASA's senior project integrator for Constellation ground systems. "Our budget is limited early in the program, and we're trying as best we can to reuse Kennedy infrastructure and only replace what makes sense."

Scott Collorado,  Don Burris and Curt Satterthwaite Image right: Scott Colloredo (left), NASA senior project integrator for Constellation ground systems, examines Launch Pad 39B with Don Burris and Curt Satterthwaite, NASA engineers. Photo credit NASA/KSC
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The biggest and perhaps most noticeable conversions will be Launch Pad 39B, which will become what's known as a "clean pad," and a new mobile launcher. Almost everything the vehicle needs for liftoff will be on the mobile launcher, including the launch tower.

"When you roll the launcher off the pad, there is very little to maintain," he said. "When you launch, you roll the launcher back to the Vehicle Assembly Building, taking most of the critical vehicle systems with you."

The new mobile launcher will more closely resemble the kind used for the Saturn V rather than the launcher platform now used to lift off the shuttle. The crawler transporter's service will be extended once again to transport the Ares I launcher to and from the pad.

While most of the pad's new look will be in the design phase for at least two years, the center plans to begin building one aspect of it later this year: a new lightning protection system at the pad with three massive towers, each about 600 feet tall, that will form a protective shield around the vehicle.

The pad and launcher will work together to support an emergency egress known as a "rail system," which resembles a rollercoaster, for flight and ground crews to quickly leave the pad if necessary.

Artist concept of launch pad 39B for Constellation Engineers already have started designing the basic infrastructure of the mobile launcher, with fabrication planned to begin in a year.

Image left: This artist concept reveals major changes to Launch Pad 39B, including a new lightning protection and emergency egress systems. Photo credit: NASA/Constellation
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Although specific changes to the Vehicle Assembly Building are still being considered, the current plan calls for modifying high bay 3, Colloredo said.

"Today, you have a set of eight big platforms that service the shuttle and wrap around it," he said. "As of today, our plan is to take those out and replace them with new platforms that go much higher to service the much taller Ares I."

Those upgrades, if approved in the design phase, will begin in about two to three years.

The Launch Control Center's Firing Room 1 is being remodeled to serve as the initial firing room for the Constellation Program. Workers have removed the equipment used to launch the shuttle and the room will be modernized with a different launch team layout, and new command and control systems, consoles and architectural designs.

Other Kennedy facilities, including the Operations and Checkout Building's high bay, will receive upgrades.

"This is the first time we've done development on this scale since the late 1970s and early 1980s, so it's a big deal," Colloredo said. "Even though a lot of people aren't seeing visible changes right now, it's an exciting time."

Corey Schubert
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center