Friday, February 6, 2015

Kennedy Space Center is Evolving!

Down it goes! The Shuttle Mate/De-mate structure is being disassembled the violent way.

As our space program moves from the Shuttle Era towards the era of SLS and Commercial Space, some structures must go in order to raise new, modern structures to support future launches. One such example is the Shuttle Mate/De-mate structure, located alongside the shuttle landing runway just across from the Apollo visitors center. With the end of the shuttle program, the device is not needed and will make room for new projects. During the shuttle program days, whenever the shuttle landed at the dry lakebed in the mojave at Edwards flight test center, it would be mated to the back of a specially-adapted 747 and then flown to the runway at Kennedy to be prepared for another mission.

The good old days. A space shuttle is lifted from the support struts on the shuttle carrier 747, having arrived from a shuttle landing at Edwards AFB in California.

Another part of the Shuttle Program was the USS Pegasus, a special barge large enough to haul the Shuttle External Tank by water from its factory in New Orleans, Louisiana to the Kennedy space Center in Florida. The Pegasus was the last barge from the fleet of barges used to move Saturn stages and shuttle external tanks down the Gulf Coast and around the Florida Keys to the Kennedy center docking port.

Barge unloading facility at Kennedy Space Center. Picture taken during Apollo Program days.

Pegasus with an external tank on the way to KSC.

Pegasus will now receive an extension to its hull and hangar to accommodate the new core stages of the SLS rocket. The core stage is almost 60 feet longer and 250 tons heavier than the shuttle external tanks. The stages will be built at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana, and transported to the KSC in several trips. You can read a lot more about the construction at

Pegasus undergoing a growth spurt.

Launch Complexes are also going through modifications. Pad 39A, from which most of the manned Apollo missions lifted off to the Moon or Earth orbit, is now under contract to SpaceX. The pad is being modified with a new gantry and tower system that will launch the Falcon 9 (and Dragon cargo spacecraft) and Falcon Heavy rockets. Future manned Falcon flights with the Dragon 2 capsule will also launch from Pad39A.

View of Launch Complex 39. Pad39A is in foreground, Pad39B in the back. Taken during the shuttle era. Both tower systems have been torn down and new construction is taking place.

Pad39B is being prepared for the new SLS heavy rocket system. Currently, the pad is being torn down to the concrete trench and a new flame exhaust trench will be put in place.

Deconstruction of the current flame exhaust trench at Pad39B. The blast from the SLS engines will be much more powerful than the shuttle's engines and boosters.

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