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NASA - Electric Bus Quietly Tours Kennedy
November 14, 2012
Steven Siceloff
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center

A new bus made an unusual impression on officials at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida recently when the all-electric vehicle carried a contingent of center, state and local officials on a tour of NASA's launch site.

Driving around the Vehicle Assembly Building, the bus made so little noise it couldn't be picked out from among the ambient sounds outside the facility.

"Your first impression will be that it's not even on, that it's not even running," Proterra engineer Joel Torr told the group just before they climbed aboard for the ride. "People aren't used to this big, quiet, clean bus. It's very strange compared to what's out there."

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the vehicle, though, is the prospect of saving fuel and maintenance costs while operating a bus that produces no emissions.

"We are actively promoting the use of alternative fuel vehicles when possible," said John Thiers of the center's Operations directorate.

The fleet of vehicles operated at Kennedy has been progressing toward a greater share of alternatively fueled transportation for a number of years as more options have become available.

Electric, natural gas and ethanol-powered cars share Kennedy's sprawling networks of roads with gasoline-fueled vehicles comfortably - the center covers 144,000 acres, after all.

This was the first time an electric bus has been offered, though. Space Coast Energy Consortium arranged the visit which included officials from Florida and local county organizations, plus industry representatives including General Motors.

Greenville, S.C.-based Proterra developed the bus, called the EcoRide, and say it stands as the only all-electric bus to pass a rigorous vehicular stress test known as "Altoona" that simulates years of use over the course of 15,000 miles.

"We're the only battery electric bus to do that," said Dale Hill, founder of Proterra. "You're trying to break the bus. We actually drove the bus nearly 500 miles in one 24-hour period."

The bus charges in 10 minutes and can run for 30 miles before it has to be recharged, the company said. That rate was improved during the Kennedy tour, though, when the bus drove 30 miles on a third of its charge.

Cities that have bought electric buses use them on circular routes, providing mass transit for a metro area. That way, the buses always have charging stations nearby.

Kennedy does not operate a route bus now, but is large enough for its workforce to use a vehicle to travel between widely spaced work areas, so there is a chance the electric bus could make a route around the center possible, economical and environmentally friendly.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, which is operated by Delaware North, had a representative at the meeting. The visitor complex uses tour buses to move visitors between the complex's main location and numerous stops on the center, including the Apollo/Saturn V Center.

Hill said the company is seeing increased demand across-the-board for an electric bus.

"It took about 10 years for the hybrid-electric bus market to come out" Hill said. "(The all-electric bus) market has taken off in something like two years."

The Proterra electric bus
Proterra brought one of its EcoRide electric buses to Kennedy to show the vehicle to center, state and local officials during a tour of the facility.
Image Credit: 
NASA/Kim Shiflett
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