Friday, October 30, 2009

Back to the Future

NASA Images

In the hey day of the Apollo Program NASA built huge support infrastructure to support the manned missions to the moon. This included the huge Vehicle Assembly Building (the VAB), the crawler transporters, launch pad 39A and 39B and finally the Mobile Launch Platforms (MLP) with the Launch Umbilical Towers (LUT). With the demise of that program most of that infrastructure was destroyed or renovated to support the Space Shuttles. One of those parts was the massive MLP/LUT. The platforms were modified to support the Space Shuttle but the LUTs were either reused as parts of the current Fixed Support Structure (FSS) at pads 39A and 39B or are rusting at Kennedy Space Center.
Now that NASA is planning to go beyond low Earth orbit (pending a final decision by President Obama) NASA is building up new infrastructure to support the Ares I rocket with the Orion spacecraft. One of the most visible parts of the ground support equipment (GSE) being built
to support Ares I is a new MLP with LUT. In the four pictures above you see the new launch platform with the tower just starting to rise on the platform base. So far three tower segments have been attached with several more to be lifted on top. After the structural assembly is completed will come the long process of installation of support equipment, fuel lines, elevators, and other Ares I support equipment. The tower should be completed by summer of 2012 and ready to support the next Ares test flight (either an Ares 1- or if that is cancelled a proposed Ares I-X Prime).
Of course all this is predicated on what President Obama decides what to do with NASA's manned spaceflight program. Constellation is currently underfunded by about $3billion/year according to the Augustine report released last month. NASA's most visible program is at risk of being cancelled which means that the only possible use for the MLP/LUT being currently built is as an artificial reef.

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