NASA,(GGS NEWS) 31 Dec 2010 :: NASA’s Kennedy Space Center helped begin a new volume to the agency’s space exploration book as the storied Space Shuttle Program entered into its final chapters.
Kennedy teams were involved in launching five missions this year; two on expendable launch vehicles and three on space shuttles. And on Dec. 8, SpaceX’s successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The flight was the first for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, which is developing commercial supply services to the International Space Station. It was also the first time a commercial company launched and returned a spacecraft to Earth.
Commercial companies going to low Earth orbit for both cargo and crewed missions was the focus of a new direction for NASA announced in February by the White House. That was followed up by a visit by President Obama to Kennedy on April 15 to outline details of his plans for the future of U.S. leadership in human spaceflight. The president committed NASA to a series of developmental goals leading to new spacecraft for reaching low Earth orbit and new technology for potential missions beyond the moon. The president’s visit preceded NASA’s Conference on the American Space Program for the 21st Century, held at the center’s Operations and Checkout Building and Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy started its year on Feb. 11 by sending the agency’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) into space aboard an Atlas V rocket Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. SDO is a first-of-its-kind mission to reveal the sun’s inner workings in unprecedented detail.
Less than a month later, NASA’s latest Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, or GOES-P, lifted off aboard a Delta IV rocket from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The latest National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite joined four other similar spacecraft to improve weather forecasting and monitoring of environmental events.
Just three days before the Launch Services Program’s first flight of 2010, NASA’s Space Shuttle Program launched its first of three missions this year aboard shuttle Endeavour on Feb. 8. STS-130’s six astronauts delivered the Tranquility node and cupola to the International Space Station during the two week flight.
On April 5, space shuttle Discovery launched on its STS-131 mission to deliver science experiments, equipment and supplies to the space station. Discovery and its seven astronaut crew landed at Kennedy 15-days later.
What turned out to be the final shuttle mission of the year, STS-132, lifted off on May 14. Shuttle Atlantis and its six astronauts deliver the Russian-built Mini Research Module, cargo and critical spare parts to the station. Atlantis touched down at Kennedy’s Shuttle Landing Facility after the 12-day mission.
STS-132 was the last scheduled space flight for Atlantis. Currently, it’s planned to be used as the “launch on need,” or potential rescue mission for the final scheduled shuttle flight, Endeavour’s STS-134 mission. Among the new directions in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 passed by Congress in September and signed by President Obama in October was the approval to turn Atlantis’ planned rescue mission into an actual flight to the space station in the summer of 2011. NASA intends to fly this flight pending resolution of funding considerations.
The last scheduled shuttle mission for the year was supposed to be Discovery’s STS-133 mission to bring the final pressurized module to be added to the U.S. portion of the International Space Station. Now STS-133 will be the first flight of 2011. A hydrogen gas leak on Discovery’s external fuel tank scrubbed a Nov. 5 launch attempt. Then engineers discovered that small cracks on the tops of two support beams, called stringers, on the tank formed during the Nov. 5 fueling process. Engineers spent the next month collecting and analyzing data before performing a tanking test on Dec. 10 where the external tank again was filled with super-cold propellants while sensors recorded its movements and temperatures in an effort to understand why the stringer cracks occurred in the first place.
On Dec. 22, Discovery was rolled off Launch Pad 39A and back into the Vehicle Assembly Building for more tank analysis and possible modifications, if the data indicates that’s needed. Managers are planning to return Discovery to the pad in January to support another launch attempt in February.
Two very visual signs the Space Shuttle Program is retiring came in 2010. In May, the final shuttle solid rocket boosters segments arrived at Kennedy by rail. The segments will be used for Atlantis, whether it’s a potential rescue flight or real mission to the space station. Then in September, the final external tank to be delivered to Kennedy arrived and began being prepared for Endeavour’s STS-134 mission.
Even before the Obama Administration began taking NASA in a new direction for life after space shuttles, Kennedy management already was focusing on bringing new commercial companies to the space center. In June, the official groundbreaking ceremony for NASA and Space Florida’s new technology and commerce park, known as Exploration Park at Kennedy was held outside the Space Life Sciences Laboratory. Exploration Park is designed to be a strategically located complex for servicing diverse tenants and uses that will engage in activities to support the space and space-related activities of NASA, other government agencies and the U.S. commercial space industry, as well as bring new aerospace work to the Space Coast.
Kennedy management also set up a new Center Planning and Development Office to enhance the economic vitality of Kennedy. Last spring, the office created a new web site aimed at making it easier to partner and do business with the space center, http://kscpartnerships.ksc.nasa.gov/.
After supporting its last space shuttle in 2009, Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39B began being deconstructed this year to convert it from a shuttle launch pad to a commercial launch site that could host multiple types of spacecraft.
Phase one of NASA’s new mobile launcher was completed this year. The 355 foot tall tower could be converted to support commercial launch vehicles or possibly even large heavy-liftrockets.
Four-years worth of upgrades to Kennedy’s Launch Equipment Test Facility also were completed this summer. The LETF, which has fixtures that can simulate launch conditions, can support the Space Shuttle Program in its final months, as well as the Launch Services Program and commercial companies in the coming years.
To support the agency’s new direction, the space transportation planning office was established at Kennedy to help develop a commercial capability to low-Earth orbit leading to astronaut launch services that NASA could buy to the International Space Station in the 2015 timeframe. The 21st Launch Complex program was established to help modernize Kennedy’s infrastructure and facilities and transform them from a space shuttle launch port into a multi-purpose launch complex that could support many different companies. Kennedy also is working on technology demonstration spaceflight plans that will support NASA’s new long-term exploration goals.
To help employees with the Space Shuttle Program retirement, Kennedy held two large-scale job fairs this year, one in May and the other in September, along with months of career-building courses and other work force support efforts. In June, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis announced that the U.S. Department of Labor awarded a $15 million grant to assist workers in Florida who will be affected by the end of the shuttle program.
Also this summer, the White House established the Presidential Task Force on Space Industry Work Force and Economic Development, which examined how to use a $40 million, multi-agency initiative for regional economic growth and help prepare space industry workers for future opportunities. The Federal Aviation Administration also began establishing an office at Kennedy this year to help support the commercial human launch services endeavor.
Kennedy also expanded its “green space” efforts in 2010. On April 8, NASA, Florida Power & Light (FPL) and political leaders commissioned FPL’s Space Coast Next Generation Solar Energy Center at Kennedy Space Center. The 10-megawatt solar-power facility will provide electricity to more than 1,000 Florida homes and reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions by more than 227,000 tons. In December, Kennedy’s new Propellants North Administration and Maintenance Facility was reopened for business. It will be one of NASA’s “greenest” facility, expected to achieve the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) Platinum status, the highest rating. And this summer, Kennedy helped with the unprecedented effort to save wildlife from the effects of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Hundreds of endangered sea turtle eggs were brought to a hatchery at Kennedy and then the baby turtles were released into the Atlantic Ocean off Kennedy’s Central Florida coast.
Kennedy also hosted the first two forums for a new initiative designed to identify and support innovative work that will contribute to a sustainable future. Called Launch, NASA along with the other founder partners, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. State Department and Nike, brought experts together in March to focus on “water.” Then in October, Launch turned its attention to “health.” Launch plans other forums in 2011. On the education front, on May 28 NASA’s first Lunabotics Mining Competition, hosted by Kennedy Space Center’s Education Programs and University Research Division, drew more than 20 university teams to design and build remote controlled or autonomous excavators, called lunabots. The 2011 competition is expected to be even bigger.
On July 1, NASA helped welcome more than 100 people as new U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administered the Oath of Allegiance to candidates representing 36 countries. This was the first time a NASA facility hosted a naturalization ceremony.
And as the Space Shuttle Program winds down and new programs start up, Kennedy Space Center looks forward to hosting many new “first time” events and milestones in the coming decade.