Kennedy: The Final Checkpoint
As the last Earthly stop for all U.S.-launched International Space Station hardware, Kennedy Space Center has a vital role in ISS element processing.
Image to left: This view reveals all three Multi-Purpose Logistics Modules on the floor of the Space Station Processing Facility. Credit: NASA
Upon its arrival at KSC, usually via cargo plane landing at KSC's Shuttle Landing Facility, new hardware is checked for identification and damage, inventoried, and transported to the appropriate location.
Most ISS payloads are delivered to the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF). Items requiring use of the airlock will be unpacked either in the airlock or in the highbay if the airlock is in use. Other items will be delivered to the hardware inspection area. After the payload arrives at the SSPF, workers spend the next several months physically integrating experiments and other payloads into the hardware.
Since none of the elements are physically connected before they meet on orbit, a Digital pre-Assembly is conducted during processing to discover any physical incompatibilities. Computer models of many physical interfaces are constructed, and these digital models are brought together. Any conflicts that appear can then be safely resolved before the elements reach orbit.
Image to right: In the Space Station Processing Facility, a technician takes readings for pre-assembly measurements on the Japanese Experiment Module, Kibo. Credit: NASA
Astronaut crew members are also given an opportunity to participate in "hands-on" testing to prepare them for their individual missions. Multi-Element testing provides an opportunity for engineers and technicians to modify or correct deficiencies while the hardware is accessible on the ground.
Once the hardware has satisfied all test requirements, it is carefully packed into the payload canister, a large container with an interior identical in size and dimensions to the Shuttle's payload bay. The payload canister is then driven slowly across Kennedy Space Center to the Space Shuttle. Payloads can be installed at the launch pad or in the Orbiter Processing Facility.
Image to left: The Integrated Equipment Assembly (IEA), one of two major components of the Starboard 6 (S6) truss segment for the International Space Station (ISS), is revealed inside NASA's Super Guppy cargo airplane following its arrival at the Shuttle Landing Facility.
At the pad, once the launch package has been installed in the Orbiter's payload bay, real-time test data is transmitted from the pad to the SSPF User Room to verify that the payload is working properly. The payload bay doors are then closed, and the hardware is ready for flight.