Launch Complex 39B being developed to launch smaller class of rockets
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla — NASA is working to have its new, massive, super heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS ) rocket liftoff from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39B. However, the space agency is not just viewing the site as the place where SLS will send crews to distant destinations. Efforts are underway to also use LC-39B to launch more diminutive rockets from.
As reported by NASA staff writer Linda Herridge, a new launch pad will help cement the notion that KSC is a 21st Century multi-user spaceport – one invested in encouraging aerospace firms to utilize as their payload launch site. This new location will even get its own name – Launch Complex 39C.
The new 39C will be located in the southeast section of LC-39B and will consist of a concrete pad that measures approximately 50 feet (15 meters) wide and 100 feet (30 meters) in length.
This new structure should be able to handle the combined weight of not only the rocket itself, but its fuel, payload, and other support structures. NASA is working to make 39C be able to support loads as high as 132,000 pounds (59.874 tonnes). This includes the weight of an umbilical tower structure, fluid lines, cables, and umbilical arms, which could weigh up to an additional 47,000 pounds (21.319 tonnes).
GSDO is also putting in place a novel fueling system, one the Space Agency has described as being “universal”. This new system is designed to provide liquid oxygen and liquid methane fueling capabilities for a variety of small class rockets.
“The small class market is looking for new capabilities, and we’ve talked to a number of companies showing some interest in Kennedy and the new launch site at pad B,” said Scott Colloredo, director of Center Planning and Development. “Along with our human, heavy class and super-heavy class Space Launch System capabilities, we want to diversify into the small class market.”
Besides launching from Launch Complex 39C, it will also be used as a testing ground for these new boosters.
NASA has already worked to convert 39B from a site designed to send shuttle crews to orbit from to the so-called “clean pad” design. This new layout is the one that the agency hopes will see the first flight of SLS in 2018. Given that, at best, SLS will likely only fly once a year, it leaves a good portion of time that the site would be unused – a fact that NASA appears to be working to counter.
“This small class launch vehicle pad will help to grow our commercial space efforts and give smaller companies affordable access to space,” said Mike Bolger, GSDO Program manager.
This new site would also benefit from being situated so as to provide access to the Multi-Payload Processing Facility, as well as the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building.
NASA has openly embraced all things commercial since the closing of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011. The agency’s Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) Program is managing this new effort and is coordinating the work under Center Planning and Development.
“At Kennedy, it’s in our DNA to help these companies,” Jerad Merbitz, the Small Class Vehicle Element Operations manager. “It’s a unique opportunity in our history, truly making this center a multi-user spaceport.”
This article pulls heavily from a story produced by NASA staff writer Linda Herridge.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.