Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Meet the New Neighbors

Click the arrow to watch the Florida Today video. You may be subjected to an ad first.

It's official.

NASA signed a 20-year lease agreement yesterday with SpaceX for Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A.

Florida Today space journalist James Dean reported that SpaceX CEO Gwynne Shotwell said the inaugural launch is targeted for the first quarter of 2015.

The big surprise was that Shotwell said that rocket will be the new Falcon Heavy, which was previously scheduled for Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California.

Click the arrow to watch the SpaceX Falcon Heavy promotional video.

In the above 2011 promotional video, it shows the Falcon Heavy launching from Vandenberg.

Shotwell also said that 39A could be used for commercial crew flights in two years, assuming NASA selects the crewed version of Dragon for that program later this year. The Dragon launches atop the Falcon 9, so 39A would be capable of launching both rockets.

Robert Perlman at collectSPACE.com offered this insight into 39A renovations.

SpaceX representatives have said that the company plans to retain and extend upward the 350 foot high (107 meter) fixed service structure that was added to Pad 39A for use by the space shuttle. The pad's rotating service structure, the large gantry that swung around to envelop the orbiter to install cargo in its payload bay, is not needed for Falcon rockets and may be removed.

“We'll have to build the launch head or launch crown over the infrastructure here, we'll leverage a lot of the plumbing that exists, we will have to bring in some of our own, and critically, we'll be bringing in all of our own instrumentation systems,” Shotwell described. “We'll be building a hangar ... to roll the vehicle out, go vertical and launch.”

Down the Cape Road at Pad 40, yesterday's Dragon launch to the International Space Station was scrubbed due to a helium leak on the pad. The next launch attempt is scheduled for Friday April 18 at 3:25 PM EDT, but the weather is forecast as only 40% favorable conditions.

UPDATE, April 15, 2014 — It took a day, but NASA has issued a press release about the SpaceX deal.

UPDATE, April 16, 2014Spaceflight Now reports that SpaceX will preserve a vertical integration option at 39A for U.S. Air Force payloads.

The U.S. Air Force requires its most precious payloads to be attached to their rockets in a vertical orientation. SpaceX's current processing paradigm uses horizontal integration, where satellites are bolted to the launch vehicle inside a hangar, then the rocket rolls to the launch pad and is hoisted upright within hours of liftoff ...

The military's insistence that its payloads be integrated with rockets vertically, an overlooked point in recent congressional hearings and debates on the future of the U.S. launch market, has forced SpaceX to rethink its concept of operations.

Vertical integration requires the presence of a fixed or mobile tower at the launch pad, giving cranes and workers access to lift and attach satellites to the rocket.

Launch pad 39A's fixed service structure, a holdover from the space shuttle era, would fit the requirement.

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