One of the advantages of the space flight gap between the end of the space shuttle program and the beginning of the space exploration program is that it affords NASA the opportunity to refurbish its infrastructure at the Kennedy Space Center.
According to SpaceTravel.com, that process has begun at the venerable Vehicle Assembly Building. Efforts have begun to bring the building up to the 21st century in time for launches of the Space Launch System as well as a number of commercial launch vehicles.
NASA's Jose Lopez, who is managing the refurbishment, explained what that process entailed. The work must be finished in time for commercial and exploration flights to take place later this decade.
The Vehicle Assembly Building is being remade to process a variety of rockets
The seven platforms in High Bay 3 that have been around since the Apollo era are being removed. In their stead there will be a series of 10 platforms that can be moved around and fitted with custom inserts so that the VAB can process different rockets. NASA envisions that both the SLS, in a variety of configurations, and a number of commercial rockets will thus be processed in the new version of the Vehicle Assembly Building.
Obsolete and aged systems are being replaced
The control systems for the cranes that were used to lift the space shuttle orbiters to the vertical launch position will be replaced. Many miles of ancient, copper cables are being torn out and replaced with modern fiber optic cables. The doors to the VAB, the largest in the world, will get new braking systems. The fire suppression system and corroded drainage and water pipes are being replaced. Battery backup systems are also being replaced.
The first commercial launches may take place by 2014
ATK's Liberty launcher, which is based on both the Constellation era Ares 1 and the European Ariane 5, would use the VAB for assembly and processing if it came to fruition. According to NASA Space Flight, Liberty may have two unmanned tests in 2014, a manned test in 2015, and would begin commercial operations in 2016 should it be chosen by NASA to service the International Space Station.
The Space Launch System is scheduled to launch in 2017
The work horse of NASA's space exploration program, the Space Launch System, is scheduled for its first space flight in 2017. The SLS would also use the VAB for processing and assembly, before being conveyed to its launch pad. Current plans call for using the launch vehicle to conduct missions to asteroids, the moon, and other destinations in deep space starting late this decade or in the early 2020s.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.
- Space & Astronomy
- Vehicle Assembly Building
- Kennedy Space Center