Spaceflight Insider

New Orbital ATK launch vehicle looking to call Kennedy Space Center home

Orbital ATK as entered into an agreement to use NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Orbital ATK has entered into an agreement to use NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building’s High Bay 2 for the assembly of a new rocket that is currently in the conceptual phase of development. Photo Credit: Michael Howard / SpaceFlight Insider

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital ATK has entered into negotiations with NASA to use the Vehicle Assembly Building’s High Bay 2 at the space agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for use on a new launch vehicle. Few details have come out about this new rocket and NASA only noted that the agreement will also include the use of a mobile launcher platform.

NASA Kennedy Space Center Vehicle Assembly Building STS-117 sky with exhaust plume from Space Shuttle Atlantis.

The VAB at night. (Click to enlarge) Photo Credit: Carleton Bailie / SpaceFlight Insider

“Over the past few years, the people of Kennedy have worked diligently to transform the center. We are now a true multi-user spaceport supporting a variety of different partners successfully,” said Bob Cabana, Kennedy director. “We look forward to working with Orbital ATK in the future to help expand the capabilities of this unique, historic asset.”

As Cabana noted, an array of companies has come to call Kennedy Space Center and the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as their home.

NASA will still be using the massive, and historic, Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to stack the agency’s new Space Launch System (SLS) super-heavy-lift rocket and Orion spacecraft (the structure is so large it can accommodate more than one launch system being assembled within).

As was highlighted in a report appearing on Florida Today, High Bay 2 measures some 452 feet (138 meters) in height and has more than 27,000 square feet (2,508 square meters) of floor space. Substantial, but necessary, space when one is assembling rockets and spacecraft.

The possible results of this new agreement will be able to have their start traced back from NASA issuing a competitive Announcement for Proposals in June 2015. In this announcement, the space agency sought companies that wanted to utilize the VAB’s unique capabilities. The structure was the tallest building in Florida until 1974 and is still the tallest building in the United States that is located outside of an urban area.

Orbital ATK boosters assist the launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis on STS-125 mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo Credit: Carleton Bailie / SpaceFlight Insider

The launch of STS-125. Photo Credit: Carleton Bailie / SpaceFlight Insider

The VAB was constructed during the U.S.’ race to the Moon with the Soviet Union. Work was completed on the 525 feet (160 meters) tall and 518 feet (158 meters) wide building in 1966. It was used for the assembly of the Saturn V Moon rockets before being re-purposed for use on the Shuttle Program. Since the shuttles have stopped flying in 2011, NASA has been trying to find other uses for the building.

Orbital ATK, a merger between Orbital Sciences Corporation and ATK, would appear to be a good fit as the company has an extensive history in terms of producing spacecraft, rockets, and boosters for an array of missions from commercial satellites to the four-segment solid rocket boosters that were used on the Space Shuttle.

The company announced three long-term growth initiatives in March 2016, with this new rocket being described as an Evolved Expandable Launch Vehicle (EELV) class next generation launch vehicle system being one of them. Details about the new vehicle are limited as its development is in the very early conceptual design phase.

Orbital ATK has stated that this agreement should have no impact on flights of the medium-class Antares rocket that the company launches from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Pad-0A. The next of those, a resupply run to the International Space Station, is currently slated to take place in June 2016.

“Orbital ATK has a long history of working with NASA’s Kennedy Space Center,” said Scott Lehr, President of Orbital ATK’s Flight Systems Group. “We are excited about the possibility of utilizing KSC facilities for a future EELV-class launch system.”

At present, no fewer than four launch service providers, United Launch Alliance, SpaceX, Blue Origin, and now Orbital ATK, could all be launching from the Cape within the coming years. ULA currently utilizes Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 37 and 41, with SpaceX using Space Launch Complex 40 and Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. Meanwhile, Blue Origin is working to launch from the Cape’s Space Launch Complex 36, a site it shares with Google Lunar X PRIZE participant Moon Express.

 

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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.

Reader Comments

This is exciting. Kennedy really is remaking itself as a 21st century multi-user spaceport. It’s gonna need that business when SLS/Orion (unfortunately) finally collapses under it’s own multi-billion dollar weight.

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