Marking historic Kennedy Space Center re-open to the rocket business

SpaceX will launch an International Space Station (ISS) cargo resupply mission from the historic Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Station in Florida, on February 14. The fallback date for the launch is Feb 15. 

For those unaware, Launch Complex 39A is where space flight began for the US. The center saw off about half of the Saturn V rockets that carried Apollo missions — including Apollo 11. It’s also where most of the US space shuttles were launched, including the space shuttle Atlantis, the last shuttle to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) in July 2011.

The Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A (in foreground) and 39B, taken in 2006. Image source: NASA
The Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A (in foreground) and 39B, taken in 2006. Image source: NASA

The 39A pad is located just one fence over from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base. It’ll be the first rocket launch at the Kennedy Space Station since the US’s shuttle program was shuttered in 2011.

The shuttle program, also known as the space transportation system (STS), marked the beginning of reusable spacecraft, so it’s fitting that SpaceX — the first and only private company to date that can launch a rocket into orbit and land it again — is using the space.

The first launch from 39A was scheduled to occur this week for the commercial broadcast EchoStar 23 satellite, but SpaceX delayed the launch in order to conduct more safety tests at the site. That launch will take place after the ISS supply mission, which is more time-sensitive.

The Kennedy Space Center is back in action

In 2014, SpaceX struck a 20-year lease with NASA to rebuild the complex for SpaceX to use to launch its Falcon 9 and Falcon 9 Heavy rockets. SpaceX has spent billions of dollars to update the center for SpaceX’s purposes while ensuring historic sites related to the Apollo missions were preserved.

 

The unmanned Skylab 1/Saturn V space vehicle is launched from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, at 12:00 noon (EDT), May 14, 1973, to place the Skylab space station cluster in Earth orbit. The Skylab 1 payload included four of the five major components of the space station Orbital Workshop, Apollo Telescope Mount, Multiple Docking Adapter, and Airlock Module. In addition to the payload, the Skylab 1/Saturn V second (S-11) stage. The fifth major component of the space station, the Command Service Module with the Skylab 2 crew aboard, was launched at a later date by a Saturn 1B from Pad B. Photo credit: NASA
The unmanned Skylab 1/Saturn V space vehicle is launched from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, at 12:00 noon (EDT), May 14, 1973, to place the Skylab space station cluster in Earth orbit. The Skylab 1 payload included four of the five major components of the space station Orbital Workshop, Apollo Telescope Mount, Multiple Docking Adapter, and Airlock Module. In addition to the payload, the Skylab 1/Saturn V second (S-11) stage. The fifth major component of the space station, the Command Service Module with the Skylab 2 crew aboard, was launched at a later date by a Saturn 1B from Pad B. Photo credit: NASA

SpaceX has added a hangar to the complex that holds five Falcon 9 rocket cores, and a “transporter-erector” that’ll be used to carry rockets from the hangar to the launch pad, among other updates.

Right next door is Launch Complex 39B, another launch site that NASA is currently re-building to support its new Space Launch System , which will begin sending rockets up into space in 2018.

SpaceX will bring needed research supplies to ISS astronauts

SpaceX’s upcoming cargo resupply mission (designated as CRS-10) will deliver valuable research materials to ISS astronaut-researchers.  Reports indicate SpaceX and NASA decided to prioritize the CRS-10 mission over the EchoStar 23 commercial satellite because the astro-scientists on the ISS are running out of experiments. SpaceX will deliver a few tons of supplies and research experiments to the ISS.

But, as per SpaceX’s modus operandi, there’s a bit of risk involved. The CRS-10 launch will be the first to use SpaceX’s new “Throwback” system for the Transporter/Erector/Launcher (TEL) apparatus, which usually pulls away from the rocket three minutes before launch. SpaceX has designed a new system in which the TEL pulls away from the rocket at T-0. SpaceX will static fire test the throwback TEL procedure about around Feb 9, about five days ahead of the scheduled Feb 14 launch.

Everyone’s fingers are crossed that the throwback TEL system will work.

Featured image: The unmanned Skylab 1/Saturn V space vehicle is launched from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, at 12:00 noon (EDT), May 14, 1973, to place the Skylab space station cluster in Earth orbit. The Skylab 1 payload included four of the five major components of the space station Orbital Workshop, Apollo Telescope Mount, Multiple Docking Adapter, and Airlock Module. In addition to the payload, the Skylab 1/Saturn V second (S-11) stage. The fifth major component of the space station, the Command Service Module with the Skylab 2 crew aboard, was launched at a later date by a Saturn 1B from Pad B. : NASA

Kendra R Chamberlain
Freelance journalist writing about environment, clean & green tech, smart infrastructure, IoT and circular economy. Co-founder and contributing editor of The Downlink.

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