Spaceflight Insider

Boeing breaks ground for Commercial Crew Access Tower at SLC-41

Crew Access Tower Groundbreaking

Officials from Boeing, NASA, the U.S. Air Force, and Space Florida broke ground on the future crew access tower at SLC-41. Photo Credit: Mike Howard/Spaceflight Insider

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Officials from Boeing, United Launch Alliance (ULA ), NASA, Space Florida and the United States Air Force attended a formal ground-breaking ceremony for a crew access tower at Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on Friday, Feb. 20. The event heralds the upcoming planned flights of Boeing’s Commercial Space Transportation (CST-100) spacecraft atop an Atlas V 401 booster from the site – and the return of U.S. astronauts launching from a domestic company – from U.S. soil.

Ground breaking ceremony as seen on Spaceflight Insider

ULA is proud to collaborate with NASA and Boeing on the Commercial Crew Program. Photo Credit: Mike Howard/Spaceflight Insider

“Fifty-three years ago today, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, launching on an Atlas just a few miles from here,” said Jim Sponnick, vice president of ULA’s Atlas and Delta programs. “The ULA team is very proud to be collaborating with Boeing and NASA on the Commercial Crew Program to continue that legacy and to return America to launching astronauts to the station.”

The new crew access tower at SLC-41 will reach 200 feet (61 meters) in height and include an elevator, as well as means for quick evacuation from the structure in the event of an emergency. SLC-41 is one of the most active launch complexes along Florida’s Space Coast, so construction of this tower is scheduled to take place between launches, with segments of the structure being built off site, then assembled at the pad.

“This is truly an integrated effort by a lot of partners and that’s really represented here today by the guests celebrating this groundbreaking with us,” said John Mulholland, Boeing Vice President of Commercial Programs. “This is the first construction of its type on the Cape since the 1960s, so building this crew tower, returning of the human launch capability to the United States, is very significant.”

The legacy and historic nature of the new project was highlighted by representatives from ULA.

Howard Biegler, Human Launch Services Project Leader at ULA said, “This is the first tower of this type built since Pad 39A or Pad 39B. Shuttle was the only data point that we could look back to where we could capitalize on the knowledge of existing engineers.”

SLC-41 as seen on Spaceflight Insider

Boeing’s CST-100 will launch from SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral. Photo Credit: Bill Jelen/Spaceflight Insider

Today’s groundbreaking ceremony saw an array of industry and agency officials marking the importance of the event, they included: John Mulholland, vice president of Boeing commercial programs, Jim Sponnick, vice president of Atlas and Delta Programs at ULA, Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Robert Cabana, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (and former shuttle astronaut), Col. Shawn Fairhurst, vice commander of the U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing, Jim Kuzma, chief operating officer for Space Florida, Lynda Weatherman, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast.

“This is a shining example of the progress we’ll see along the Space Coast as industry works toward safely flying our astronauts to and from the station,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “Once this crew access tower is complete, this historical launch complex will be an integral part of a new era in human spaceflight.”

Under a Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract with NASA, Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 spacecraft, currently in development, will be certified by NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to fly crews to and from the International Space Station. The spacecraft will launch on a ULA Atlas V rocket from SLC-41.

According to Boeing, the company’s schedule calls for a pad abort test to take place in Feb. 2017, followed by an uncrewed flight test in April of that same year. After these milestones have been successfully completed, it is planned to have a Boeing test pilot and a NASA astronaut take the spacecraft on its inaugural crewed flight in July 2017.

Crew access tower model as seen on Spaceflight Insder

A model of the crew access tower and rocket with the CST-100 capsule on top, shows what the future holds for SLC-41. Photo Credit: Mike Howard/Spaceflight Insider

In 2014, Boeing closed out its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement and Certification Products Contract (CPC) with NASA. The company also completed its first two CCtCap milestones. Boeing worked with the space agency to set an operating rhythm and path toward certification of the CST-100 spacecraft and the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

NASA evaluated the designs of the company’s ground-based systems that will be used to carry crews to the station, including the launch complex, crew training, countdown operations mission control facilities, landing locations and post-landing operations.

NASA’s goal for the Commercial Crew Program is to facilitate the development of a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability with the objective of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station. With the CCtCap contracts announced in Sept. 2014, NASA’s goal is to certify crew transportation systems in 2017 that will return the ability to launch astronauts from the United States to the International Space Station.

Video courtesy of NASA


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