In lead up to first flight of Falcon Heavy, SpaceX continues conversion of LC-39A
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla – In April 2014, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX ) signed a 20-year lease with NASA for the use of its historic Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) located at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. SpaceX president and chief operating officer (COO), Gwynne Shotwell, was on hand and made known that the company intended to redevelop the pad for use by its Falcon Heavy rockets. Shotwell stated that most historical pad elements would remain, but modifications, including the building of a “launch mount,” the installation of new instrumentation / plumbing, and the building of a new hangar, would be made. Almost a year later, the first signs of that redevelopment are visible.
This past week, SpaceFlight Insider was on site at KSC and captured a few photos of the ongoing construction taking place at LC-39A.
The most easily recognizable “modification” are the steel pillars that now rise from the ground just outside the pad perimeter, on what was the “crawler-way” — the gravel track on which NASA’s crawler-transporters transported Saturn V Moon rockets and Space Shuttles to the pad.
The steel pillars represent the early stages of construction of the new hangar, or Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF), that Shotwell referenced in April. It’s anticipated that the HIF will be capable of housing multiple Falcon stages, along with associated hardware and payloads.
In addition, and although not yet visible on site, SpaceX is expected to cover the ramp leading from the HIF to the pad with concrete and install two sets of rails upon which the rockets will be rolled to the pad. The company recently released a video containing animation of its planned Falcon Heavy rocket lifting off from LC-39A which shows the addition of the concrete and rails.
Furthermore, on the pad itself, construction of the launch mount is also underway. The mount will serve as the attachment, or hold-down, point for the rocket. No such mount previously existed at LC-39A as all prior vehicles launched from the pad were attached to a mobile launch platform brought to the pad by a crawler-transporter.
In April 2014, Shotwell stated that the first SpaceX launch from LC-39A would take place during the “first quarter” of 2015 with the first flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket. This launch window now appears to be unmakeable due to the amount of construction and testing yet to be completed.
NASASpaceflight.com is reporting that a Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR) of the Falcon Heavy is on the schedule at KSC for July 1, 2015, although there doesn’t appear to be a high degree of confidence in this date. The WDR is a launch readiness test which simulates a launch countdown, including the fueling of the rocket, and typically takes place a relatively short time prior to a scheduled launch.
Last month, John Taylor, a spokesperson for SpaceX, reported to SpaceFlight Insider that the company is planning for the Falcon Heavy launch sometime during the third quarter of 2015.
Whenever the Falcon Heavy finally takes flight from LC-39A, it should be an impressive sight. The “Heavy” will essentially be three of the company’s Falcon 9 cores strapped together. Each core should measure 12-feet in diameter and the total height of the rocket should be around 224-feet. Each of the three cores will have nine first stage Merlin 1D engines, bringing the total to 27. These engines, together, should generate just short of four million pounds of thrust.
Stay tuned to SpaceFlight Insider for continuing updates on SpaceX and the construction taking place at KSC’s LC-39A.
Scott earned both a Bachelor's Degree in public administration, and a law degree, from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He currently practices law in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. Scott first remembers visiting Marshall Space Flight Center in 1978 to get an up-close look at the first orbiter, Enterprise, which had been transported to Huntsville for dynamic testing. More recently, in 2006, he participated in an effort at the United States Space and Rocket Center (USSRC) to restore the long-neglected Skylab 1-G Trainer. This led to a volunteer position, with the USSRC curator, where he worked for several years maintaining exhibits and archival material, including flown space hardware. Scott attended the STS - 110, 116 and 135 shuttle launches, along with Ares I-X, Atlas V MSL and Delta IV NROL-15 launches. More recently, he covered the Atlas V SBIRS GEO-2 and MAVEN launches, along with the Antares ORB-1, SpaceX CRS-3, and Orion EFT-1 launches.