New Plans for ESA’s Experimental Re-entry Vehicle

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ESA and Arianespace have signed a contract planning the launch of ESA’s new IXV (Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle) on Europe’s new Vega Rocket in 2014. Vega is Europe’s new small launch system and it is designed to complement the heavy Ariane 5 and medium Soyuz Rocket systems launched from French Guiana.

The small rocket is capable of a wide range of payloads up to 1.5 tonnes, compared to Ariane 5 which can lift 20 tonnes, making it especially suitable for the commercial space market. The Vega Rocket will launch the IXV into a suborbital trajectory from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, IXV will then return to Earth as if from a low-orbit mission, to test and qualify new critical technologies for future re-entry vehicles.

Vega Rocket Credit: Arianespace

The IXV will reach a velocity of 7.5km/s at an altitude of around 450km and then re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere gathering data about its flight. The vehicle will encounter hypersonic and supersonic speeds and will be controlled with complex avionics, thrusters and flaps.

Once the vehicle’s speed has been reduced enough, it will deploy a parachute, descend and land safely in the Pacific Ocean.

This flight will record data for the next five VERTA missions (Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment – Programme), which will demonstrate the systems re-usable versatility.

Two launches a year are planned for the new programme and construction of infrastructure including mission control and communications networks is currently underway.

Development and completion of the design, manufacturing and assembly is now underway for a flight window between January and September 2014.

VERTA (Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment – Programme) Credit: Arianespace

Source: ESA

Massive Motion – NASA’s Mobile Launcher Moves to Launch Pad

Video of Mobile Launcher on its move out to Launch Complex 39B courtesy of Alan Walters/awaltersphoto.com

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – NASA decided that its Mobile Launcher (ML) needed a bit of a shakedown cruise – so it took it on a trip to Launch Complex – 39B (LC-39B). Along the way it stopped and reviewed data as to how the massive tower fared as it lumbered along at the blistering pace of a mile-an-hour. This does not make for riveting must-see video – unless you speed it up.

In the roughly minute-long video the ML moves along at a (somewhat) faster pace. The ML is part of the space agency’s plans to return NASA to the business of space exploration once again. If all goes according to plan, the ML will be the platform used to launch NASA’s Space Launch System or SLS.

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As with so many aspects of space exploration, there is a type of art that flows from even the least aesthetic blocky components that are used to lift Heaven and Earth. For those with the right eye, even a metallic tower has a beauty all its own.

That is exactly what aerospace photographer Alan Walters does – find the path to let an object’s inner beauty shine through. The burly photographer has an artist’s eye and loves sharing the awe of all manners of space flight and spacecraft processing.

On Wednesday one of the most emotional aspects of the journey to the launch pad – was the resemblance of some of the images – to those shot during the Apollo era. This imagery could well be prescient as NASA is passing the responsibility of delivering crew and cargo to the International Space Station to commercial space firms as it turns its focus on launching crews to points beyond low-Earth-orbit.

In an image that is eerily similar to shots taken during the moonshots of the late 1960s and early 1970s NASA's Mobile Launcher moves out to Launch Complex-39B on Nov. 16, 2011. Photo Credit: Alan walters/awaltersphoto.com

The ML moved from next to Kennedy Space Center’s (KSC) Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to LC-39B to collect data from structural and functional engineering tests. Any relevant data that is gleaned from the journey will be used to modify the ML. The 355-foot-tall ML is being developed to support NASA’s exploration objectives.

“To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from the move,” Walters said. “After the thing got moving, I began having Apollo flashbacks and I got more and more into photographing and getting video of this event. It made me hopeful about what we might be seeing fly out of Kennedy (Space Center) in the years to come.”

Spiraling upward into the sky, the Mobile Launcher rises some 355 feet into the air and could one day be the platform from which astronauts launch to visit other worlds. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/awaltersphoto.com

Want To Fly In Space? NASA Looking For More of the “Right Stuff”

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NASA is looking for folks with the “right stuff.” The space agency is seeking qualified individuals for when the space agency once again travels into space – and beyond low-Earth-orbit. The announcement of NASA’s process for selecting its next class of astronauts was made at an event held at the Webb auditorium at NASA Headquarters located in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, Nov. 15.

At this event was NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, Assistant Administrator for Human Capital Jeri Buchholz, Flight Crew Operations Director Janet Kavandi as well as five members of the 2009 astronaut class. They were Serena Aunon, Kjell Lindgren, Kathleen Rubins, Scott Tingle and Mark Vande Hei.

NASA is currently attempting to hand off providing access to low-Earth-orbit or LEO as it attempts to send astronauts beyond LEO for the first time in four decades. Photo Credit: jeff Soulliere

“For 50 years, American astronauts have led the exploration of our solar system,” Bolden said. “Today we are getting a glimpse of why that will remain true for the next half-century. Make no mistake about it, human space flight is alive and well at NASA.”
Bolden is a former shuttle astronaut himself, having flown into space four times.

The 2009 class of astronauts – was the first to graduate in a new era of space flight – one which would eventually see the retirement of NASA’s fleet of space shuttle orbiters. NASA is currently working to develop not only a new spacecraft – but a new launch vehicle as well. The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle or Orion MPCV may one day ferry astronauts to points beyond LEO.

With NASA's fleet of shuttle orbiters on their separate ways to various museums across the country, NASA is currently lacking the capacity to launch astronauts on its own and is dependent on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft. Photo Credit: Jeff Soulliere

To get the Orion MPCV to orbit the space agency is developing the Space Launch System or SLS. This launch vehicle, resembling a cross between the space transportation system (STS) that comprised the shuttle – and the Saturn V moon rocket was recently unveiled by the space agency.

As far as access to LEO is concerned, NASA is working to hand those responsibilities over to commercial space firms such as SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corporation and Boeing. These companies will also work to deliver crew and cargo to the orbiting International Space Station (ISS). If it all works out these new astronauts could well be among the first to return the U.S. to the Moon or be the first person to visit an asteroid or even Mars.

The astronaut's selected in this process could very well be the first astronauts to land on an asteroid - or even the planet Mars. Photo Credit: Jeff Soulliere

The Astronaut Candidate Program is open to any person that meets the agency’s qualifications. They can submit their applications online through the USAJobs.gov website. For those considering a career in the astronaut corps, here are some of the requirements:

• Bachelor’s Degree in either science, engineering or math
• Three years of relevant professional experience
• Experience in flying high-performance jet aircraft is considered a plus
• Educators that have taught grades kindergarten through the 12 are highly encouraged to apply

NASA will be accepting applications through January 27, 2012. The agency will bring in applicants to be interviewed and evaluated. NASA plans to make their final decision in 2013 – with training of these new astronauts starting that summer.

NASA has been working to see that the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle or Orion MPCV is ready in time for deep space missions. Photo Credit: NASA.gov

Orion Spacecraft to Launch in 2014

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – NASA has announced its intention to launch an unmanned flight of the Orion Spacecraft atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle – by 2014. This flight test will be added to the contract that the space agency has with aerospace firm Lockheed Martin. The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle or Orion MPCV as it is more commonly known – will test out systems that will be employed on the Space Launch System (SLS). If successful, this will allow astronauts to travel beyond low-Earth-orbit (LEO) for the first time in over four decades.

“This flight test will provide invaluable data to support the deep space exploration missions this nation is embarking upon,” said NASA Associate Administrator for Communications David Weaver.

The flight has been dubbed Exploration Flight Test or EFT-1 and will be comprised of two high-apogee orbits that will conclude with a high-energy reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Like the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules before it, the Orion MPCV will conduct a water landing.

The test mission will lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station located in Florida. It is designed to provide the space agency with vital flight data regarding how the vehicle handles re-entry and other performance issues.

The test flight will be comprised of two high-apogee orbits followed by a splash down. This flight will provide NASA with crucial information that could potentially lead to changes in the Orion spacecraft's design. Image Credit: NASA

“The entry part of the test will produce data needed to develop a spacecraft capable of surviving speeds greater than 20,000 mph and safely return astronauts from beyond Earth orbit,” said Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations William
Gerstenmaier. “This test is very important to the detailed design process in terms of the data we expect to receive.”

Presumably the use of a Delta IV Heavy would allow NASA to accelerate its human exploration objectives at an accelerated rate. Since the flight will be unmanned, there is no need to man-rate the launch vehicle and given the current economic issues facing the United States, the use of so-called “legacy” hardware could ensure that costs are kept down.

The past year has seen the development of the Orion spacecraft proceed at an accelerated pace. Photo Credit: NASA/Lockheed Martin

NASA has also stated its intention to release competitive solicitations for design proposals for new, advanced liquid or solid boosters to be used on the SLS. Another contract that will be opened for competition will be for payload adaptors for both crewed as well as cargo missions.

The Orion spacecraft was originally part of the Constellation Program. Its design has since been modified – but its mission to one day fly astronauts to the Moon, Mars and beyond – remains. The EFT-1 test flight will allow technicians and NASA officials to better determine what further changes need to be made to best aid the completion of NASA’s exploration goals.

The EFT-1 test flight could pave the way for flights back to the Moon, to the planet Mars and to other destinations throughout the solar system. Image Credit: NASA.gov

NASA Test-Fires Key Engine for New Launch System

NASA successfully test-fired the J2-X rocket engine on Wednesday, a key component of the Space Launch System, NASA’s giant new rocket that is slated to take cargo and crew beyond low Earth orbit. A deafening 500-second firing test at the Stennis Space Center showed the engine is ready for the next steps in building the SLS rocket.

“What you heard to today is the sound of the front end of the critical path to the future,” said Stennis Director Patrick Scheuermann, speaking at a press conference immediately after the test fire, which began at 4:04 p.m. EST (2104 GMT).

Continue reading “NASA Test-Fires Key Engine for New Launch System”

NASA Up Close Tour: VAB and Space Shuttle Endeavour On Display

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – When guests visited the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in the past, they never knew if they would have the opportunity to see an actual space shuttle in some stage of being processed for a mission. The operators of the Visitor Complex have changed that – guests will now not only get the chance to see space shuttle Endeavour (as well as potentially Atlantis and Discovery in the future) – but to also tour the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building.

The opportunity to tour the VAB is currently being offered for a limited time and only to a limited number of Visitor Complex guests per day as part of KSC Up-Close, a new two-hour, guided special interest tour that began on Nov. 1. While touring inside the VAB itself is considered a treat, to actually be just a short distance away from one of the three remaining orbiters to conduct missions to and from orbit – is a rare thing indeed.

One, almost universal, reaction that guests displayed was craning their necks to see all the way to the ceiling of the Vehicle Assembly Building. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/awaltersphoto.com

“We are very pleased to have the ability to offer to our guests the opportunity to see not just the inside of the Vehicle Assembly Building – but one of the orbiters as well,” said the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s Public Relations Manager Andrea Farmer. “While we don’t know the exact time frame – but this tour should be offered throughout 2012 and possibly into 2013.”

While undoubtedly one of the most memorable stops on the tour, the VAB tour stop is just one stop on this tour. Other stops include; NASA’s KSC Headquarters, the Operations & Checkout building (O&C), as well as the NASA Causeway providing a view of the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Guests who choose to go on the KSC Up-Close tour should call ahead as seats on this tour are limited and the tour might not be available every day. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

From here, guests can see launch pads 17, 37, 40, and 41, which are currently used for commercial and government launches.

After their stop at the VAB, guests will get to see the massive Crawler Transporters and “Crawlerway”. Guests will also get to see the Pegasus barge used to haul the shuttle’s large External Fuel Tanks (ETs) from Louisiana; the famous blue countdown clock and the Shuttle Landing Facility.

Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour all will be in and out of the Vehicle Assembly Building in the future, allowing guests the opportunity to see these spacecraft first hand. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

The last place that guests will visit is two hills where NASA remotely shoots launch photography and videography. On one side guests can see Launch Complexes 39A and B and on the other side is the Atlantic. This will provide guests to see the renovations that are currently being done to LC-39B in preparation for commercial launches or for the use for the Space Launch System (SLS).

Guests who had the opportunity to take the tour were amazed at what they were seeing, the sheer scale of the facilities and vehicles – as well as the history that they were walking through.

Three-time shuttle veteran Sam Gemar thinks that this new tour is important in allowing the public to gain a greater appreciation for U.S. human space flight efforts.

“Having flown to space myself, I cannot express strongly enough how much of a tremendous opportunity it is for the public to see the actual vehicles that have sent astronauts into space for the past three decades,” Gemar said. “Kennedy Space Center is where America goes to space and the KSC Up – Close tour allows us to share the history of the Vehicle Assembly Building with the world.”

Although the Visitor Complex cannot guarantee that whenever a guest arrives that they will be able to see a space shuttle inside the VAB (each of the orbiters are being processed for display in their new homes in Los Angeles, CA, Washington, D.C. and Florida. Eventually shuttle Atlantis, which will placed be display in a new facility at the Visitor Complex in 2013.

Boeing To Use Shuttle Hangar for CST-100 Space Taxi

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – NASA hosted an event on Monday, Oct. 31, at 10 a.m. EDT at Kennedy Space Center’s Orbiter Processing Facility-3 (OPF-3) to announce a new partnership between NASA, Space Florida and Boeing. Space Florida in turn will lease OPF-3 to Boeing. Under the terms of this arrangement, Boeing will use OPF-3 to manufacture and test Boeing’s “space taxi” the CST-100.

Boeing will use OPF-3 as the firm’s commercial crew program office. The OPF, essentially a hangar, will be converted to construct Boeing’s CST-100 space capsule, which is currently being developed to deliver astronauts to low-Earth-orbit (LEO).

In the past Boeing has issued imagery that displayed its CST-100 launching from a variety of different launch vehicles which call Florida's Space Coast their home. Photo Credit: Boeing

This new partnership was developed following a Notice of Availability that the space agency issued at the beginning of this year. The notice was used to identify interest from industry for space processing and support facilities at Kennedy. With NASA’s fleet of orbiters being decommissioned, NASA was seeking ways to effectively use its existing facilities.

It is hoped that this, and similar partnerships will help create jobs in the region as well as to help the U.S. regain leadership in the global space economy.

Boeing's CST-100 is called a "space-taxi" and is being designed to carry both crew and cargo to both the International Space Station as well and other low-Earth-orbit destnations. Image Credit: Boeing

The CST-100 is currently proposed as a reusable spacecraft that is comprised of two parts – a crew module and service module. It is designed to house up to seven astronauts, but it can also be used to ferry both people and cargo to orbit.

With the space shuttle fleet retired, NASA is completely reliant on Russia for access to the International Space Station. Russia charges the space agency about $63 million a seat on its Soyuz spacecraft.

“Only Congress can determine when we will stop the investment of our nation’s tax dollars into the purchase of continued space transportation services from the Russians – and invest instead in the U.S. work force and commercial industry capabilities,” said Space Florida’s President Frank DiBello.

During the final launch of the shuttle era, Boeing had both a mock-up as well as this test article on display. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

NASA has worked to keep the public apprised about its efforts to open its doors to private space companies. The space agency held press conferences to announce both the Space Act Agreement (SAA) that NASA had entered into with Alliant Techsystems (ATK) and EADS Astrium concerning the Liberty launch vehicle, as well as the release of the design of the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket (which was announced on the following day).

“Thanks so much John and John, I love what you have done with the place!” said NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver referring to OPF-3.

The CST-100 has been proposed as a means of transportation to other future destinations in low-Earth-orbit such as one of the inflatable space station's currently under development by Bigelow Aerospace. Image Credit: Boeing

Space Florida is the organization that works to maintain and cultivate the aerospace industry within the State of Florida. The purpose of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is to develop U.S. commercial crew space flight capabilities. It is hoped that they will one day allow the U.S. to achieve reliable, safe and cheap access not to just the space station – but other destinations in LEO as well.

“If we’re going to find a way to fund exploration beyond the vicinity of Earth, particularly in today’s fiscally-constrained environment – we’ve got to find a way to do the job of transporting crew to the International Space Station in a more affordable manner,” said Boeing’s John Elbon. “That’s one of the primary purposes of the commercial crew program – to provide affordable access to low-Earth-orbit so that we can use the International Space Station as the great laboratory that it is.”

Through an agreement with Space Florida, NASA will lease Orbiter Processing Facility-3 (OPF-3) to Boeing for its CST-100 space taxi. It is hoped that this and efforts like this one will eventually reduce the cost of sending crews to the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA

Aerojet: Small Space Firm Has Big Space History

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When it comes to space flight pedigrees, few companies have one that can compare to Aerojet’s. The California-based company has a resume on space operations that is as lengthy as it is impressive. Universe Today sat down with Julie Van Kleeck – the firm’s vice-president of space and launch systems business unit.

Van Kleeck spoke extensively about the company’s rich history, its legacy of accomplishments – as well as what it has planned for space missions of the future.

Universe Today: Hi Julie, thanks for taking the time to chat with us today.

Van Kleeck: “My pleasure!”

Universe Today: How long has Aerojet been in business and what exactly is it that your company produces?

Van Kleeck: “We’ve been in the space business – since there was a space program – so since at least the 50s. We’ve dealt with both launch systems as well as space maneuvering systems, those components that enable spacecraft to move while in space.”

Aerojet propulsion systems have helped many of NASA's deep-space probes explore the solar system. Image Credit: NASA.gov

Universe Today: What about in terms of human space flight, when did Aerojet get involved with that?

Van Kleeck: “We first started working on the manned side of the house back during the Gemini Program, from there we progressed to Apollo, then shuttle and we hope to be involved with SLS (Space Launch System) as well.”

Universe Today: I understand that your company also has an extensive history when it comes to unmanned missions as well, care to tell us a bit about that?

Van Kleeck: “We have been on every discovery mission that has ever been launched, we have touched every part of space that you can touch.”

It is Aerojet's solid rocket motors that provide that extra-added “punch” to the versions of the Atlas V launch vehicle that utilize them. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/awaltersphoto.com

Universe Today: Some aerospace companies only produce one product or service, why is Aerojet’s list of offerings so diversified?

Van Kleeck: “We’re quite different than our competitors in that we provide a very wide-range of products to our customers. We’ve provided the liquid engines that went on Titan and now we provide the solids that go on the Atlas V launch vehicle as well as the small chemical and electrical propulsion systems that are utilized on some satellites.”

An Aerojet AJ26 rocket engine is prepared for testing in this image. These engines, as well as a license to produce them, were purchased from Russia and were originally designated the NK-33. Picture Credit: Aerojet

Universe Today: Does this mean that Aerojet places more importance on one space flight system over others?

Van Kleeck: “We view each of the products that we produce as equally important. Having said that, the fact that Aerojet offers a diversity of products and understands each of them well – sets us apart from our competitors. Firms that only produce one type of product tend to work to sell just that one product, whereas Aerojet’s extensive catalog of services allows us to be more objective when offering those services to our customers.”

During a tour of the Vertical Integration Facility, Aerojet's Solid Rocket Motors or SRms -were on full display attached to the Atlas V rocket that is set to send the Mars Science Laboratory rover "Curiosity" to Mars. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/awaltersphoto.com

Universe Today: When you look back, what is one of the most interesting projects that Aerojet has been involved with?

Van Kleeck: “I think as I look back over the past decade, New Horizons comes to mind, it was the first Atlas to launch with five solids on it. I look at that mission in particular as a major accomplish for not just us – but the country as well.”

In this image an AJ26 liquid rocket engine is tested. These engines are utilized as part of Orbital Science's Taurus II program. Photo Credit: Aerojet

Universe Today: What does the future hold for Aerojet?

Van Kleeck: ”We’re working on the Orion crew capsule right now with both liquid propulsion for it as well as solid propulsion for the abort test motor. We’re very much looking forward to seeing Orion fly in the coming years. We are currently putting into place the basic infrastructure to support human space exploration. We are working with both commercial crewed as well as Robert Bigelow to provide propulsion systems that work with their individual system – because no one system fits everyone. We are pleased to be offer systems for a wide variety of space exploration efforts.”

Universe Today: Julie, thanks for taking the time to chat with us today!

Van Kleeck: “No problem at all – it was my pleasure!”

Aerojet’s products will be on full display Nov. 25 as, if everything goes as planned the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover Curiosity is set to launch on that day. Four of the company’s solid rocket motors or SRMs will help power the Curiosity rover on its way to the red planet.

For a taste of what Aerojet’s SRMs provide – please view the NASA video below.

All Together Now!

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That’s a lot of power under one roof! For the first time in… well, ever… all fifteen Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) are together inside NASA’s Engine Shop at Kennedy Space Center. They will be prepped for shipment to Stennis Space Center in Mississippi where they’ll become part of the propulsion used on NASA’s next generation heavy-lift rocket: the Space Launch System.

The engines, built by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, are each 14 feet (4.2 meters) long & 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) in diameter at the end of its nozzle, and weighs approximately 7,000 lbs (3175 kg).

Photo from a test firing of an SSME at the Stennis Space Center in 1981. Credit: NASA.

Each engine is capable of generating a force of nearly 400,000 pounds (lbf) of thrust at liftoff, and consumes 350 gallons (1,340 liters) of fuel per second. They are engineered to burn liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, creating exhaust composed primarily of water vapor.

The engines will be incorporated into the Space Launch System (SLS), which is designed to carry the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle – also currently in development – as well as serve as backup for commercial and international transportation to the ISS. By utilizing current technology and adapting it for future needs, NASA will be able to make the next leap in human spaceflight and space exploration – while getting the most “bang” out of the taxpayers’ bucks.

“NASA has been making steady progress toward realizing the president’s goal of deep space exploration, while doing so in a more affordable way. We have been driving down the costs on the Space Launch System and Orion contracts by adopting new ways of doing business and project hundreds of millions of dollars of savings each year.” 

–  NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver

Nine of the 15 SSMEs await shipment inside NASA's Engine Shop. Each weighs approximately 7,000 lbs. Credit: NASA.

While it’s sad to see these amazing machines removed from the shuttles, it’s good to know that they still have plenty of life left in them and will soon once again be able to take people into orbit and beyond!

Read more about the Space Launch System here.

Bolden Visits Kennedy Space Center, Talks SLS and the Future

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – NASA Administrator Charles Bolden stopped by Kennedy Space Center in Florida to tour NASA’s Mobile Launch Platform. Bolden was joined by fellow former shuttle astronaut and current Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana. The duo toured the 355-foot-tall structure Tuesday, Oct. 11 at 11 a.m. EDT.

The Mobile Launcher’s future was in doubt after the Constellation Program was cancelled. Although nothing definite was stated – everything from scrapping the structure, using it as a platform for tourists at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center to just keeping it in reserve was suggested. The space agency now plans to use the structure to launch the Space Launch System or SLS rocket.

NASA Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana (far left) gestures while discussing how the MLP will be used in upcoming missions. To his left is NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and they are surrounded by members of the local media. Photo Credit: Suresh Atapattu

The NASA administrator’s visit was designed to help promote NASA’s recently-unveiled SLS heavy-lift rocket. The launch vehicle somewhat resembles a cross between the cancelled Ares V and the Saturn V moon rockets that launched Apollo astronauts to the moon. It is slated to begin conducting flights by 2017. SLS is comprised primarily of so-called “legacy hardware” – proven technology derived from the space shuttle and Saturn systems.

Bolden spent some time chatting with reporters and working to reassure Kennedy Space Center’s remaining workforce, as well as several hundred Space Coast community and business leaders and elected officials that the area’s future was bright. Bolden used the visit to state that this was a sign that things were improving in the region. He highlighted the fact that new capabilities, such as the placement of the Commercial Crew program office at Kennedy, will help to maintain aerospace skills and capabilities.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden descends the steps of the MLP during his visit to Kennedy Space Center on Oct. 11, 2011. Photo Credit: Suresh Atapattu

“As our nation looks for ways to compete and win in the 21st century, NASA continues to be an engine of job growth and economic opportunity,” Bolden said. “From California to Florida, the space industry is strong and growing. The next generation of explorers will
not fly a space shuttle, but they may be able to walk on Mars. And those journeys are starting at the Kennedy Space Center today.”

The shuttle elements of SLS include the RS-25 engines (Space Shuttle Main Engines) along with modified versions of the Solid Rocket Boosters that were employed on the space shuttle. The Saturn elements (descendent) are the J-2X engines, which are simpler variants of the J-2 engines employed during the Apollo era.

A few up the massive Mobile Launch Platform and Mobile Launch Tower (the combined structure is generally called the Mobile Launcher). Photo Credit: Julian Leek/Blue Sawtooth Studios

NASA made its plans for the SLS public in September, just one day after Alliant Techsystems (ATK) and NASA announced that an unfunded Space Act Agreement deal to study the viability of using the Liberty rocket to ferry astronauts to orbit. If all goes according to plan, SLS will eventually be utilized to launch the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. It is hoped that the introduction of SLS and other space systems will help to stem the flow of highly-trained and experienced workers from the space agency.