Feb 8, 2013

NASA's Mobile Launcher Up Close and Personal

I was one of a handful of social media loudmouths recently given unprecedented access to many of NASA's secret gardens including the massive Mobile Launcher (ML).

The ML was originally designed for the Apollo Program and later used to assemble and transport the Shuttles from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

It basically consists of the lower platform, maybe 25' tall, and the upper umbilical tower, maybe 400' tall.  As NASA restructures following the dissolution of the Shuttle program, the launch pads are one of their most recognizable assets.   They've removed a lot of the structures used specifically for the shuttle, removed a million miles of cable, put up lightning towers and now have a clean launch pad that others can use for a short period of time.  

How do you photograph such a monster?

The goal, according to Jeremy Parsons, a mission operations engineer with NASA's Ground Systems Development, is to
"increase our users and drive down the cost of deep space exploration.  Leveraging the experience of the engineers who worked on the shuttle to be early in the design of the Space Launch Systems (SLS) vehicle, to make it easy to use, reliable, sustainable.  We run simulations to estimate what we need, the time frame, chance of success... change our designs to see how we're doing.  Figure out how we'll process this vehicle and relate that back to the design center.  We work on it in a 3D environment so when the vehicle arrives, we hit the ground running.....
 We're on schedule, just completed our system requirements review, and are not proceeding on to the preliminary design review.  All of our systems are going well.  If another user can come in and use the pads, it will help both NASA and the commercial companies."
My view up the 25' x 25' exhaust hole. 
This will be increased to 31' x 64'.

Greg Williams, with NASA's human exploration operations explains the goal is to
"free NASA up to leave earth orbit and move beyond via Orion, to go to the moon, asteroids, and everybody's common destination in space is Mars.  Step One is the ISS - learning how to work and operate in space environment.  Step Two is to utilize lunar space -- the volume of space around the Moon -- then the solar system -- interplanetary, low gravity bodies, asteroids -- and then" bada bing bada boom (my words, not his) - "Mars.  We need a heavy launch vehicle and a cargo vehicle.  Has to be affordable and sustainable, 105 tons and 314' tall for low earth orbit, then 130 plus tons and 384' tall for Mars.  Orion would carry 3 - 4 astronauts and NASA has recently signed a European space agency agreement, bringing on International partners for the Orion as we have done with the ISS." 

Now where was I?  The ML.  NASA was working on Orion out here, I believe, and have pushed Orion back into the VAB and will now modify the ML for the SLS.

We went in.  Around 21,000 square feet of living space inside. A lot of it is empty, clean and ready to roll.  She'll be ready to support a launch at the end of 2016.  Who will it be?  Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic?  Will it be Rocketcrafters who are moving from Utah to Titusville, FL as I write?  Such exciting times!!

Hensel Phelps originally built this baby - 10 tiers lifted singularly with 40 cranes and bolted together.  The bottom is mostly steel and metal; the top, fiberglass.  662 steps to the top and the construction crew had to climb it repeatedly during construction.

I found it very artistic.
Beautiful, really.

Three power sub stations which we stayed away from:

We took the elevator to the top at 60' per minute.  The shuttle crew would board around 275 - 285 feet, including my old friend Doug Wheelock.

The view from the top.

The end of the shuttle most definitely is not the end of space exploration.  I loved hearing about NASA's plans for the future and love sharing them with you.  Big thank you to NASA for including me in these tours
Read more:
Tour of SwampWorks, NASA's new research and development lab
Atlas V Launch in which they sent a new TDRS satellite out
More Info. on Atlas V and TDRS.

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