Plans to upgrade Kennedy Space Center reach new milestone
NASA recently announced that the agency’s new crew-rated Space Launch System (SLS) super-heavy-lift booster and Orion spacecraft have reached a new milestone with the completion of a comprehensive review of plans for the facilities and ground support systems at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) that will process the rocket and spacecraft.
“NASA is developing and modernizing the ground systems at Kennedy to safely integrate Orion with SLS, move the vehicle to the pad, and successfully launch it into space,” said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator of NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Division via a release issued by the company. “Modernizing the ground systems for our journey to Mars also ensures long-term sustainability and affordability to meet future needs of the multi-use spaceport.”
As part of the comprehensive assessment, engineers and experts from across the space agency reviewed hundreds of documents over the course of a few months.
The Ground Systems Development and Operations Program (GSDO), which is responsible for processing Orion and SLS for flight, completed its critical design review of facilities and ground systems plans in December 2015. This was followed in January by the completion of an independent report by a Standing Review Board, a team of experts that assessed program readiness. They confirmed that the program is on track to complete the design and development process both on schedule and on budget.
Before fabrication, installation, and testing of the ground systems, the GSDO program and review board briefed NASA’s Program Management Council, led by Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, on the results of their assessments.
Engineers at KSC are now working to transform the center’s launch infrastructure to support the SLS booster and Orion spacecraft. The SLS will be stacked in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on the mobile launcher and roll out to Launch Pad 39B atop a modified crawler transport. The Orion Spacecraft will be fueled with propellants in the Multi-Payload Processing Facility at KSC before being stacked atop the SLS. As the clock counts down to the liftoff of SLS’s first flight (Exploration Mission 1 – currently set for late 2018), the launch team will use the new command and control system in KSC’s firing room.
“The team is working hard and we are making remarkable progress transforming our facilities,” said GSDO’s Program Manager, Mike Bolger. “As we are preparing for NASA’s journey to Mars, the outstanding team at the Kennedy Space Center is ensuring that we will be ready to receive SLS and Orion flight hardware and process the vehicle for the first flight in 2018.”
The council also heard the results of the Orion Critical Design Review, which was completed at the program level in October 2015. That assessment evaluated the spacecraft’s primary systems, including the capsule’s structures, pyrotechnics, Launch Abort System jettison, guidance, navigation, and control software and many other elements.
Work continues on the Orion spacecraft at NASA centers across the country. The underlying structure of the spacecraft arrived at KSC for outfitting in early February of this year (2016). Thousands of Orion components will be sent to and installed on the spacecraft over the course of the next 18 months.
Video courtesy of NASA
Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.