Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mobile Launcher Moves to Launch Pad

The mobile launcher is making the longest trip of its young life today to begin a two-week series of structural tests at Launch Pad 39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

In anticipation of launching the Space Launch System later this decade, engineers wanted to check the mobile launcher, or ML, in a number of categories ranging from how it would behave moving atop a crawler-transporter to how well its systems mesh with the infrastructure at Pad B, which has undergone extensive renovations during the past year.

"We have the time and will be able to gain significant knowledge that will assist in the development of the ML," said Larry Schultz, ML project manager.

The ML began its 14-hour move at 9:15 a.m. on Nov. 16. The trip will cover about 4.2 miles from a work site beside the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pad.

Schultz said the team will get its first look at the information after the move is complete.

Rising 400 feet above the rocky crawlerway, the mobile launcher is substantially different than the mobile launcher platforms that carried space shuttles to the launch pads for 30 years. The dominant feature is the ML's tower, a 355-foot-high gray, steel tower reminiscent of the ones that serviced the Saturn V rockets headed to the moon in the 1960s and 70s.

In fact, not since 1975 has a launch structure as tall as the ML stood at either of Kennedy's launch pads.

The ML had been moved once before, but not very far. It was repositioned at its worksite beside the Vehicle Assembly Building in October 2010.

Although it was originally envisioned to host a slim rocket, the structure's design was flexible enough that it can be modified to support the Space Launch System, or SLS, a rocket that is in the same lifting category as the Saturn V.

The modifications to come include strengthening the supports in the base and widening the exhaust port the rocket will stand over. The ML's exhaust port now is a 22-foot square. It will be made into a 60-foot-by-30-foot rectangle.

Swing arms will be added to the tower in the 2015 timeframe, modified to provide fueling and venting along with electrical and communication links to the different stages of the rocket, along with a crew access arm reaching out to NASA's new Orion spacecraft at the top of the rocket. Even with the modifications, the structure will be lighter than the shuttle's mobile launcher platform.

The tower was built atop a 47-foot-tall base of steel that is 165 feet long and 135 feet wide. Altogether, the ML weighs in at 6.75 million pounds.

Read more