Tag Archives: Kennedy Space Center

ULA to trim working launchpads from 5 to 2

The competition heats up: In order to lower its fixed costs, ULA plans to reduce the number of launchpads it maintains from 5 to 2, one at Kennedy and Vandenberg respectively.

Right now they need to maintain three separate launchpads to operate the Delta 2, Delta 4, and Delta Heavy, which is the main reason the Delta family of rockets is so expensive. This is also the reason that the Delta 2 and Delta Heavy only launch from Vandenberg, as ULA has retired their launchpads at Kennedy.

It appears that ULA’s plan is to design their next generation rocket much like SpaceX’s Falcon 9, with as simple as system of launch facilities as possible.

Falcon Heavy launchpad work begun

The competition heats up: SpaceX has begun the construction work necessary to convert the launchpad it will use at the Kennedy Space Center for its first test flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket, now scheduled for summer 2015.

Most of the current work appears to be taking place on the perimeter area of the pad, with the construction of a hanger building – known as the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) – that will house the Falcon Heavy rocket and associated hardware and payloads during processing. During rollout, the Falcon Heavy will be transported atop the Transporter Erector (TE), which will ride on rails, up the famous 39A ramp that once saw Space Shuttle and Apollo stacks arrive via the Crawler Transporters.

The July launch date is considered preliminary and a target date only and is of course subject to change.

Air Force to take over two former shuttle hangers in Florida for its X-37B program

In an effort to find tenants for its facilities, the Kennedy Space Center is going to rent two former shuttle processing hangers to Boeing for the Air Force’s X-37B program.

NASA built three Orbiter Processing Facilities, or OPFs, to service its space shuttle fleet between missions. All three are located next to the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building at the Florida spaceport where Apollo Saturn 5 moon rockets and space shuttles were “stacked” for launch. Under an agreement with NASA, Boeing will modify OPF bays 1 and 2 for the X-37B program, completing upgrades by the end of the year.

The company already has an agreement with NASA to use OPF-3 and the shuttle engine shop in the VAB to assemble its CST-100 commercial crew craft being built to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The company says up to six capsules can be processed in the facility at the same time.

The most important take-away from this news is that it strongly suggests the Air Force now intends to expand the X-37B program. They will not only be flying both X37B’s again, they might even planning to increase the fleet’s size from two ships.

NASA has officially handed control of launchpad 39A to SpaceX, where the company intends to launch its Falcon Heavy.

NASA has officially handed control of launchpad 39A to SpaceX, where the company intends to launch its Falcon Heavy.

The agreement turns over control of Launch Complex 39A to the commercial space transportation firm, which plans to use the launch pad for the the initial flights of the Falcon Heavy, a mega-rocket featuring 27 first stage engines generating nearly 4 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.

Pad 39A was the starting point for many historic Apollo and space shuttle missions, including the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 and the first and last shuttle launches in 1981 and 2011.

“We’ll make great use of this pad, I promise,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, in remarks to the media moments after signing the lease. “We’ve had architects and our launch site engineering [team] working for many months on the sidelines. We will launch the Falcon Heavy from here first — from this pad — early next year.” [emphasis mine]

The highlighted quote reveals a key fact. Until recently SpaceX had been claiming that it will do its first demo launch of Falcon Heavy in 2014. This quote confirms that this schedule is not happening.

Environmentalists register opposition to a new commercial spaceport in Florida.

Environmentalists register opposition to a new commercial spaceport in Florida.

Opponents of the plan to carve out about 200 acres from the 140,000-acre (57,000-hectare) Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge cite concerns over protecting the refuge’s water, seashore, plants and wildlife, which include 18 federally listed endangered species. “It’s a very pristine, natural area. It’s clear water … very unique. You don’t have that anywhere else in Florida,” said Ted Forsgren with Coastal Conservation Association of Florida, which strongly opposes the project.

The environmentalists also cite the possibility that access to the refuge will become reduced because it will be closed during launches.

These objections are bogus. The reason this refuge even exists is because of the Kennedy Space Center. When the space center was created in the 1960s Congress also set aside the area around it as a wildlife refuge. Nothing could be built there anyway because of the need to create a buffer from the rocket launchpads. In the ensuing half century the wildlife has prospered, despite the launches. And access to the refuge has always been restricted in a variety of ways because of the space center. A new commercial launch facility won’t change any of this significantly.

If you want to see the inside of NASA’s gigantic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), you better hurry. Tours cease in February.

If you want to see the inside of NASA’s gigantic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), you better hurry. Tours cease in February.

Tours into the VAB have only occurred during gaps in the American space effort. I was lucky to visit Florida back in 1977, after the end of the Apollo program and before the start of the shuttle program, so my tour went inside the VAB. For the last few years, since the shuttle’s retirement, interior tours resumed.

The tour is worth it. If you can find the time and money, get down there now!

Boeing is moving its X-37B operations to the Kennedy Space Center.

Boeing is moving its X-37B operations to the Kennedy Space Center.

A spy plane used by the U.S. Air Force is about to get a new home: a garage at Kennedy Space Center that once housed NASA orbiters during the space shuttle era. The move was announced Friday by Boeing, the Chicago-based company that built the X-37B spy plane and is in charge of repairing the spacecraft whenever it returns to Earth. Previously, Boeing had refurbished the 29-foot-long spacecraft at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, but the company decided to relocate its fix-up shop in Florida, where the vehicle now launches.

VAB to be opened to tourists for the first time in years

The Vehicle Assembly Building at Cape Canaveral is going to be opened to tourists for the first time in years.

Back in around 1977 I was down in Florida for that year’s science fiction Worldcon convention. At one point we went out to the space center to take the tour. Since this was after Apollo but before the shuttle, the VAB was then part of the tour, and they took us inside at the ground level so we could look up into its vast height. Hopefully, the new tours will let the tourists see more.

NASA proposes major reconstruction of its launch facility at the Kennedy Space Center

NASA proposes major reconstruction of its launch facility at the Kennedy Space Center.

They say this modernization is intended to make Kennedy more competitive in the modern commercial space market, which I am sure is true. Another way to look at it, however, is that Kennedy is getting favored treatment by the government, receiving a huge subsidy from NASA that the other private spaceports in New Mexico and elsewhere were not even allowed to compete for.