Friday, June 6, 2014

The Master Plan

A 1963 map showing five projected launch pads at Kennedy Space Center. Image source: NASA.

NASA has posted online its Kennedy Space Center Master Plan for the next twenty years.

Click here to read the executive summary.

The Master Plan is NASA's blueprint for converting KSC into a multi-purpose spaceport, a vision that began in 2011 as part of the Obama administration's ongoing efforts to open space to the private sector.

Don't think this is what will happen in the next two decades. It's only a direction. Expect lots of people to object.

The above map from 1963 should remind us of what happens to master plans. KSC never built Pads 39C, D or E. Nor did they ever build the Nuclear Assembly Building north of the Vehicle Assembly Building, which would have been used for processing nuclear-powered engines.

Public hearings are debating the merits of the Master Plan. We'll look at the details of how the Plan intends to change today's KSC.


Vertical Launch Facilities — Pads 39A and 39B go back to the original plan in the mid-1960s. Built for Apollo, they were modified in the 1970s for the Space Shuttle. Those two pads today are being refurbished for the third generation of human spaceflight.

Existing and proposed vertical launch pads at Kennedy Space Center. Image source: NASA.

Pad 39A was leased in mid-April to SpaceX. The company intends to use it for their planned Falcon Heavy, as well as International Space Station commercial crew flights on the Falcon 9.

Pad 39B will be used for NASA's Space Launch System. NASA will tell you that it's a multi-user pad, but so far no other potential users have emerged.

The Master Plan resurrects Pads 39C and 39D from the 1960s plan, although it doesn't specify who the potential users might be. The pads would be in different locations than the 1963 map, but appear to be along where the crawlerway would have been extended for those original pads.

Noticeable by its absence is the proposed Space Florida commercial spaceport at Shiloh, alongside State Route 3 roughly northwest of where Pad 39E was proposed in the original 1963 plan. Local environmentalist groups have fiercely opposed the development, which is also part of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. (KSC and MINWR share the same borders.) During a February 10 congressional hearing at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, a compromise was floated by Charles Lee, the Director of Advocacy for Audubon Florida, suggesting that his group wouldn't object to new pads south of State Route 402.

It appears that NASA has embraced the compromise to move forward, although it doesn't address the primary reason Space Florida proposed Shiloh in the first place — to open a spaceport not owned by NASA or the U.S. Air Force.

Commercial launchers believe government landlords will add unnecessary regulatory burdens that will add to the cost of their operations, and their launches for commercial customers may be treated as less important than government missions.

According to a June 3 Florida Today article, “Space Florida says it has already ruled out the new NASA sites for both environmental and operational reasons.”

The state believes the locations in largely wetland areas would be more environmentally damaging, and force more disruptive closures of Playalinda Beach — an issue of particular concern to Titusville residents and leaders.

The pads' location on land controlled by NASA and the Air Force, plus their proximity to each other and NASA's pad for exploration missions, also don't provide the conditions commercial launchers want, Space Florida says.

KSC's master plan promotes cultural changes needed to make the center more commercially friendly, and proposes commercial zones where NASA oversight would be minimized.

At the same time, it envisions NASA managing and generating revenue from commercial operations.

The plan encourages profit-sharing partnerships, offering services “such as on-site dining, service facilities, or recreational opportunities to compete with private sector business developments,” and pursuing exemptions to laws prohibiting competition with the private sector.

It suggests assigning a senior manager to drive implementation of NASA's vision for a multi-user spaceport.

As for the Small Vehicle Launch Area, “a 2007 Vertical Launch Site Evaluation Study concluded that a vertical launch pad could also be sited to the south of 39A and to the north of pad 41 to accommodate small/medium launch vehicles,” according to the Master Plan web site.

Why is Launch Complex 41 on the map? Even though it's under Air Force control, the complex is within Kennedy Space Center borders. That goes back to the 1963 Webb-McNamara Agreement, which specified that NASA would manage “the tract north and west of Cape Canaveral now being purchased by NASA, hereinafter referred to as MILA, excluding the TITAN III site, which is considered a part of [the Atlantic Missile Range].


Vertical Landing — The only commercial vendor close to needing a vertical landing pad is SpaceX, with the reusable Falcon 9 and the recently unveiled Dragon V2 for commercial crew. SpaceX already plans to use as a landing pad one of several abandoned launch complexes on Air Force property near the tip of Cape Canaveral. Other companies, such as Blue Origin and Masten Space Systems, are developing vertical landing vehicles, but neither appears likely to fly on the Space Coast any time soon. Both were rumored to be potential Space Florida clients at Shiloh.

A proposed vertical landing pad near Canaveral National Seashore. Image source: NASA.

The site would be between the NASA railway and State Route 402, near Canaveral National Seashore. That might anger environmentalists, although Audubon Florida pledged to support facilities south of SR-402 if land north of the highway were transferred to the Fish and Wildlife Service. Mr. Lee and the Audubon folks might argue that their SR-402 compromise applied only to Shiloh, not anything near the Canaveral National Seashore.


Horizontal Launch and Landing — The existing Shuttle Launch Facility already has several future potential customers, such as the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, the Boeing X-37B, Starfighters, Stratolaunch, XCOR and Swiss Space Systems. That runway is oriented northwest to southeast, and was originally built for orbiter landings, not launches. An east-west runway allows takeoffs over the ocean, in case of an accident or encroaching development; SLF takeoffs to the south go over the Industrial Area and the Visitor Complex.

The Master Plan adds a new east-west runway to the existing Shuttle Launch Facility. Image source: NASA.

In July 2013, NASA announced it had selected Space Florida to manage and operate the SLF (which presumably will be renamed). It's unclear if the east-west runway would also be managed by Space Florida.

Environmentalists and other locals are already objecting to the second runway, as well as Pads 39C and 39D. SR-402, the northern boundary of the east-west runway, is the access road to Canaveral National Seashore.


Rail Transportation — The Transportation Plan states that “KSC supports the opportunity to expand the rail network that currently terminates in the Industrial Area to provide connectivity to Port Canaveral and mainland rail networks via the Jay Jay Railroad Bridge.”

The Master Plan would extend the NASA Railroad line south to connect to Port Canaveral. Image source: NASA.

According to the web site:

  • This potential divestiture could maintain rail capability at the Center, while minimizing the cost to NASA programs. An expanded rail connection to Port Canaveral could be achieved using easements on KSC land.
  • Rail connections to each of the future seaports could expand delivery options for hardware transport from ships to KSC assembly areas, which could also benefit both NASA Programs and non-NASA activities.
  • Future planning and ongoing maintenance for any additional internal rail connections and the rail easement extension to Port Canaveral could be managed by Canaveral Port Authority, given their interest in creating a linkage to the main FEC line in Titusville.

All the land within the extension on Merritt Island is within KSC's borders. It would pass near KARS Park, a popular recreational facility for KSC employees. In some places along the route, residential areas lie just beyond the KSC border.

The idea was discussed during last February's congressional hearing, and Rep. John Mica (R-FL) endorses the proposal. Mica chaired the February hearing at KSCVC.

The proposed bridge across the Banana River is certain to generate controversy from boaters and environmentalists, who complained during a May 22 briefing that not enough information has been made public.


The KSC Master Plan Executive Summary ends with this quote from President John F. Kennedy:

For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past, or the present, are certain to miss the future.

That quote seems aimed directly at the many people who like things just the way they are.

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