SLC-41’s crew access arm and white room prepped for move to SLC-41
OAK HILL, Fla. — The Crew Access Arm and White Room that will be the debarkation point for crews leaving for low-Earth orbit was highlighted at a recent event hosted by NASA. The new arm and White Room will be affixed to the crew access tower that is being assembled at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41.
NASA, along with Boeing and United Launch Alliance, provided members of the media, as well as social media enthusiasts, with a tour of the new structure that crews will use to board Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. From there, they will be launched to the International Space Station atop a ULA Atlas V 421 rocket. However, one Boeing executive, with his own orbital experiences, is hoping the ISS will be just the start.
“It’s all about the destination, spending more than 48 hours in either Starliner, Soyuz, or the SpaceX vehicle is obviously not a long term solution – you need a destination,” Former NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson, who currently serves as Boeing’s Deputy Project Manager for the Commercial Crew Program, told SpaceFlight Insider. “Now, fortunately, today we have the International Space Station, which is the key destination. We’ve seen passengers [space tourists] go to the ISS before, back in the early 2000s. We would like to think that the ISS would be willing to entertain something similar to that again; of course, there hasn’t been any deals inked or anything like that, but I think there has been some overtures of interest – so we’re continuing to explore that.”
Meanwhile, NASA is hoping that private firms such as Boeing and SpaceX can use their respective CST-100 Starliner and Dragon spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from the orbiting laboratory, perhaps as soon as 2017.
The White Room is where crews will adjust their flight gear and don their helmets prior to boarding the capsule-based spacecraft.
“There will be other possible commercial missions where we will need to load cargo into a different vehicle in the future,” Stephen Hirst an arm control engineer with ULA told SpaceFlight Insider. “We’re looking to adapt.”
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program has seen SLC-41 undergo a transformation with the new access tower rising into the sky over the past year. The work being done at the historic location should bear fruit within the next year with the first flight of Starliner.
“We have Orbital Flight Test 1 which is scheduled to take place next year,” Ferguson said. When asked if the first crewed test flight (OFT-1 will be uncrewed) could also take place next year, Ferguson told SpaceFlight Insider that the well-being of the crew will be the guide in terms of when that mission will take place. “NASA has levied some additional requirements on the spacecraft and we’re taking that into the need to fly safely, If it does take place in 2017, it’s because it’s safe. If it’s not in 2017, it’s because that is what it took to be safe.”
Before it is transported to the Cape, the White Room and Access Arm must undergo extensive testing. The move will be one of the next major milestones the structure will undergo and should take place in the next few months.
“That is going to be quite an event,” Hirst said. “It’s going to be a complex move and should take place late this summer.”
When complete, the tower will weigh in at a hefty 1 million lbs (453,592 kg). SLC-41’s newest addition is the first new tower of its kind – since the Apollo era of the late 1960s and early 1970s. So far, SLC-41 has not been used to launch humans.
The various partners collaborating on Starliner’s involvement in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, are hoping to have the 200-foot structure, as well as all of the prerequisite equipment that it will need (installation of the arm and White Room on the Tower, data and communication lines, elevator, and more) finished before the close of 2016.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner has been designed to be able to carry as many as seven astronauts to and from the International Space Station or to other low-Earth orbit destinations.
“We have this offsite testing that helps verify the design so that we know that we’re on the right path, that all of our interfaces work as designed and that once it’s installed on the launch pad and tested – we know what to expect,” Boeing’s Lisa Loucks told SpaceFlight Insider. “It really gives us a lot of confidence that our systems will work well together.”
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.