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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — In the space business, one has to get used to heights. In terms of scale, only the expansive VAB and pads of Launch Complex-39 beat the height of NASA’s new Mobile Launcher (ML) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center located in Florida. The AmericaSpace team toured the ML and discovered how the ML is being modified for use with NASA’s new Space Launch System, or SLS.
The ML stands some 355 feet tall (for comparison, the VAB is 526 feet tall and the Fixed Service Structure on LC-39A is about 350 feet tall). Watching the ML move out to LC-39A atop one of NASA’s Crawler-Transporters is an awe-inspiring sight. It isn’t every day that one can watch a building roll around on the shoulders of a massive tank. The people that make sights like this a reality are almost as impressive as their charges.
Kimberley Demoret is with QinetiQ North America; her area of responsibility in terms of the ML are efforts to modify the mobile launcher to support SLS.
“The Mobile Launcher is comprised of about seven million pounds of steel and was originally designed for the Ares family of rockets,” Demoret said when asked about the ML’s background. “I’m part of the design team that is modifying the ML. There are a number of different things we’re working on: power, water, essentially any and all of the elements needed to support a launch.”
Some of the launch vehicles that would have been used under the Constellation Program are somewhat similar to early iterations of the SLS; this makes the challenges faced by the ESC somewhat, but not entirely, lessened.
“When you think about it, you’ve got this structure that weighs millions of pounds, that has to be lifted up and moved out to the pad,” Demoret said. “Given the delicate nature of what the ML carries and the systems that it has to support, this is no easy task, especially given the fact that it has to support a newer and heavier launch vehicle.”
“This version of the access arm will extend some 20 feet past the ML, so, when complete, the Mobile Launcher is going to have a very unique profile,” Krahmer said.
As it currently stands, the ML will first be used to launch one of the SLS rockets in 2017. This will be an unmanned test flight. If all goes well on this first flight of the SLS booster, a crewed mission could take place in the early 2020s.
Tune in tomorrow for the next segment in AmericaSpace’s ongoing series on NASA’s Engineering Services Contract.