Spaceflight Insider

FOR RENT: Slightly Used – Vehicle Assembly Building Highbay, Crawler-Transporters

Kennedy Space Center KSC Vehicle Assembly Building VAB Space Launch System SLS NASA image posted on SpaceFlight Insider

NASA is looking for potential commercial users for High Bay 2 in the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Image Credit: NASA

NASA’s iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and its massive Mobile Launch Platforms (MLP) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida are being offered to commercial users interested in assembling, testing, and launching their rockets at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. It’s all part of a 20-year Master Plan aimed at turning NASA’s portion of the spaceport into a multi-user complex for launches, landings, logistics, and space research and development.

The space agency is soliciting proposals from the private sector, which are due by July 31, 2015. An “industry day” is planned on June 30 to allow an on site evaluation of the infrastructure by interested parties. Details are available here.

The VAB includes four High Bay sections, able to accommodate rockets as tall as 450 feet (137.2 meters). Only one of them, High Bay 2 (HB2), is currently being offered to potential commercial users at this time.

The VAB is connected by a four-mile (6.4 kilometer) gravel “crawlerway” to two ocean-side launch pads – 39A and 39B – originally developed for the Saturn V Moon rockets and modified to serve the Space Shuttle Program. Three MLPs are being made available. They are designed to ride atop the agency’s 5.9 million pound (2.7 million kilogram) crawler-transporters from the VAB to the launch pads.

Space Shuttle Atlantis undergoing lift and mate at the Vehicle Assembly Building

The VAB has been used to process both the Saturn V Moon rocket and NASA’s retired fleet of shuttle orbiters. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

“Making unique capabilities like the VAB available to commercial companies is yet another step in our evolution to a diverse spaceport that supports government and commercial partners,” said Scott Colloredo, director of Center Planning and Development at Kennedy, in a June 15 news release. “The Space Launch System relies on the VAB for assembly and integration, but High Bay 2 will be available in 2016 for commercial users, and we want to fully explore who might have a need for a massive integration facility at Launch Complex 39.”

Early users of this infrastructure may be tied to operating at Launch Complex 39B, which, like the VAB itself, is being upgraded and modified for use with the agency’s new super heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) – but will also accommodate smaller rockets under the center’s new Master Plan.

Meanwhile, Launch Complex 39A has been leased to Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX ) and will be serviced by a new SpaceX-developed horizontal rocket integration facility for its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles. According to NASA’s Master Plan, NASA or its commercial partners ultimately may develop additional launch pads which could be served by the VAB and/or MLPs, to the north and south of Pad 39A and Pad 39B.

NASA Vehicle Assembly Building VAB Space Launch System SLS NASA image posted on SpaceFlight Insider

With NASA planning on using the VAB for assembling the Space Launch System, it might seem like the structure would not have the room to support other users. However, the expansive interior of the structure should allow for more than one system to be processed at any one time. Image Credit: NASA



Edward Ellegood has served as Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Director of Aerospace Development as well as a space policy analyst. The owner of the FLORIDA SPACErePORT, Ellegood is well-versed on all matters relating to space and specializes in state government efforts to develop spaceports and space transportation. He lives in Cocoa Beach, Florida, and is involved in several local space advocacy groups.

Reader Comments

This is great news, but in reality; NASA loves to have these press releases saying they are heading in this direction, opening doors for the commercial space industry at many NASA centers.
But the truth is, it’s mostly hype. NASA puts so many restrictions on the contractors and buries them in so much red tape, most companies won’t bother taking them up on their offer unless there is some relaxation of unachievable requirements or the contractor has extremely deep pockets.

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