Boeing CST-100 and ULA Atlas-V Crew Access Tower Taking Shape at Cape Canaveral Launch Site

The first crew access tower tiers begin to take shape at Space Launch Complex-41 for flights aboard the Boeing CST-100. Credits: NASA/Cory Huston

The first crew access tower tiers begin to take shape at Space Launch Complex-41 for flights aboard the Boeing CST-100. Credits: NASA/Cory Huston

In 2017 the United States will once again see the return of American human spaceflight to our own shores, courtesy of SpaceX and Boeing and their Dragon and CST-100 crew capsules. Boeing, however, is NASA’s primary crew contract winner, receiving a much larger piece of the multi-billion-dollar pie to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) aboard their CST-100 capsule ($4.2 billion for Boeing and $2.6 billion for SpaceX).

With two years left before an expected inaugural launch there is still a lot of work to be done, but one visible sign of progress at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is the new Boeing/ULA (United Launch Alliance) crew access tower now being built just down the road from ULA’s Atlas Space Launch Complex-41 (SLC-41), which is where Boeing’s flights will take place from atop the proven ULA Atlas-V rocket.

Artist’s concept of Boeing’s CST-100 space taxi atop a man rated ULA Atlas-V rocket showing new crew access tower and arm at Space Launch Complex 41, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: ULA

Artist’s concept of Boeing’s CST-100 space taxi atop a man rated ULA Atlas-V rocket showing new crew access tower and arm at Space Launch Complex 41, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: ULA

The entire tower will be erected over six to seven weeks this summer, rising like an erector set, and it’s the first of its kind intended for a vehicle that will carry humans into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station since the one built at Launch Complex 34 for the Apollo missions in the 1960s. The fixed service structures used for crew access for NASA’s 30 years of space shuttle launches from Launch Complex 39A and 39B were built in the late-1970s at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), which neighbors the Cape at the north side of Merritt Island.

The first segments of the new SLC-41 Atlas-V commercial crew tower are already rising above the Cape’s flat landscape, and, when finished, the tower will stand over 200 feet tall.

“Safety of our NASA astronauts and ground crews is at the forefront as we construct the crew access tower,” said Mike Burghardt, the launch segment director for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program. “This is an exciting time in space. The crew tower embodies the fact that very soon we’ll be launching crew missions again from the Space Coast.”

The tower will be comprised of seven major tier segments, or levels, and each will measure about 20 foot square and 28 feet tall. Building them away from the pad allows ULA to maintain their busy Atlas launch manifest, which will launch again as soon as July 15, and also allows for foundation work for the tower at SLC-41 to move forward at the same time the tower itself is being built. Cranes move the largest pieces into place, while welders and riveters connect the thick steel beams together to form the central spars of the tower.

“The first truss segment will be transported out to the pad and installed in the July time frame,” said Howard Biegler, ULA’s man in charge of the company’s Human Launch Services division, in comments to AmericaSpace several months ago. “That will be an above ground segment. The rest happens quick over the course of a six or seven week period. So the remaining pieces of the tower goes up rather quickly.”

Each tier segment will be moved to the launch complex one by one, then will be stacked, and Biegler expects the major bulk of that work to be complete by the end of summer.

Foundation work at the pad to support the tower began last January. The site has already been excavated, and 10 42-inch-diameter piers have already been drilled and poured. The old Mobile Service Tower (MST) railroad tracks from the Titan Centaur days are being removed as well, then the dowels will be installed to secure the crew access tower.

Once the seven tiers are built and outfitted with everything (except wire harnesses and elevator rails), they will be trucked over to SLC-41 and stacked between launches. The tower will then be outfitted with all the wiring, lines, support facilities, stairs, and elevators the astronaut crew and ground support staff will require. A set of slidewire baskets will be ready to help anyone on the tower to evacuate in a hurry in the unlikely event of an emergency as well.

“After the tower buildup comes the extensive work to outfit the tower with over 400 pieces of outboard steel that have to be installed,” added Biegler. “That takes much longer, and will be done in parallel with the arm buildup. The completely integrated and tested crew access arm and walkway should be brought out to the launch site around May 2016, with all the site construction, testing and certifications done by September 2016.”


VIDEO: Boeing/ULA Crew Access Tower Takes Shape

It should be noted that, although there won’t be any crewed flights in 2016 anymore, ULA designed their game plan from day one to support a December 2016 launch (as was NASA’s intention a couple years ago). They have never slipped off of their September 2016 completion date.

“This is an extremely exciting time,” said Rick Marlette, deputy project manager for ULA’s launch pad construction. “It’s great to be doing the construction after so many years and we’re bringing Atlas back to its heritage from the Mercury Program of flying astronauts into space.”

In the meantime, at ULA’s 1.6-million-square-foot Decatur, Ala., facility, the company has already started work building the two Atlas-V rockets that will launch Boeing’s CST-100 space capsule on its first uncrewed and crewed test flight, both scheduled for 2017. Both rockets, each designated as AV-073 and AV-080, will be the first to be certified by both NASA and ULA to fly people to and from the International Space Station.

We continue to reach out to SpaceX regarding progress at nearby KSC LC-39A, but the company will not release any details except through Elon’s Twitter account. Boeing and ULA, however, speak with us about their Commercial Crew Program progress, even inviting us to their operational facilities on occasion for progress updates.

 

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20 comments to Boeing CST-100 and ULA Atlas-V Crew Access Tower Taking Shape at Cape Canaveral Launch Site

  • Hopefully, NASA will also commission the Dream Chaser space plane to do cargo runs on top of the Atlas V.

    Marcel

  • Art

    “Boeing, however, is NASA’s primary crew contract winner.” This is not accurate. NASA has never said that Boeing was their primary crew contract winner. Boeing’s bid was more expensive because they have more to do. SpaceX already have a factory to produce space capsules. Boeing has to build theirs($$$). They will also use a more expensive launcher. Expect their manned launches to be over $250 million/launch. This is my opinion.

    • My article doesn’t state NASA having said that, they won’t distinguish between the two, but everyone in the space business knows it to be true. You’re entitled to your opinion, but money talks. Also, SpaceX has more to do, not Boeing, review the CCICAP milestones.

      The article is accurate same as everything published on AmericaSpace.

    • Art, NASA gave Boeing something like a 94% passing score on the CCtCap key decision points while SpaceX was a distant second in the mid-80’s. That makes Boeing the leader and SpaceX the follower.

      Before Sunday, one might have posited that SpaceX was the more experienced CCtCap contractor for the spacecraft and Boeing the more experienced in making and flying rockets. However, confidence in SpaceX is, to say the least, not as high as it was.

      So if NASA has to take a leader-follower path to funding CCP, Boeing would be the leader. Any other scenario would just be whimsical.

  • Art

    But your article did state that. Yes, they did receive what they asked from NASA. But, that’s how much it cost them to do the same things that NASA paid a much lesser amount to SpaceX for. I did review the CCICAP milestones. They are all different for each provider. Boeing has more to do in terms of setting up their capsule processing facility at KSC & getting their personnel fully trained to process it. And since many people think Boeing has less to do, by theory they should be launching their unmanned mission in the last quarter of 2016. Having the jig saw puzzle & putting it together are two different things. Maybe Boeing has always been favored by many people in Congress. As you can see, I like to comment on good articles.

    • Joe

      “… And since many people think Boeing has less to do …”

      Which people would those be Art?

      • Tim Andrews

        Judging by the feedback on various spaceflight fora and comment sections, I don’t think it’s all that uncommon of a perception.

        While looking up milestones, I ran across this comment left on a space news site by a user prior to the CCtCap selection: “In practice, Boeing is last. They have completed the paperwork, while both competitors are bending plates on their first launch capable demonstrators.” Comments like that aren’t all that uncommon online.

        For both CCiCap and CCtCap SpaceX has a milestone schedule mixing hardware performance testing and design reviews, where Boeing’s schedule is primarily design reviews first then hardware. SpaceX tested their parachutes in January of last year, while Boeing isn’t planning to test theirs until halfway through next year. SpaceX just did their pad abort and Boeing’s is targeted February 2017 (interestingly, 2 months after it’s milestone deadline) for theirs. Who knows when SpaceX will get to their in-flight abort (maybe something good to do while the Falcon 9’s are grounded with presumed 2nd stage problems) but in comparison, Boeing isn’t even doing one.

        To many who don’t realize the real volume of work and importance of design reviews and difference in the schedules due to agile development vs waterfall, it simply looks like SpaceX is flying hardware while is Boeing behind, when in actuality SpaceX’ pad abort milestone was 17 months late and Boeing’s been plugging through their milestones.

        • Joe

          “To many who don’t realize the real volume of work and importance of design reviews and difference in the schedules due to agile development vs waterfall, it simply looks like SpaceX is flying hardware while is Boeing behind, when in actuality SpaceX’ pad abort milestone was 17 months late and Boeing’s been plugging through their milestones.”

          Tim,

          Correct. Art could try to refute that, but instead talks about an undefined “many people”. It is another method of argumentation, rather than debate the facts try to create the image of an illusory army behind you to scare away the opposition.

          “Who knows when SpaceX will get to their in-flight abort (maybe something good to do while the Falcon 9’s are grounded with presumed 2nd stage problems) but in comparison, Boeing isn’t even doing one.”

          Have not looked at their plan for the in-flight abort test. Can they perform it without the availability of a functioning Falcon 9?

          • Note also the experience Boeing has over the decades. It’s no secret NASA’s confidence in Boeing is solid. SpaceX has a long way to go in that department (however nobody with a bit of intelligence would say they are not earning it).

            Now look at the $2 BILLION extra that Boeing got for CCP, as opposed to SpaceX, for less milestones (which is SpaceX’s fault, as those milestones were chosen by each company and only approved by NASA). Yes SpaceX wants to do more, but again that’s not NASA’s problem. Boeing is providing a taxi service, nothing more, SpaceX meanwhile wants to change the game of space launch all together and go to Mars.

            Then last Sunday’s big F9 boom off Cape Canaveral happened. And people wonder why Boeing got $2 billion more to fly CST100 on the most reliable rocket in history (ATLAS). Confidence has its benefits…

          • Matt McClanahan

            “Have not looked at their plan for the in-flight abort test. Can they perform it without the availability of a functioning Falcon 9?”

            That’s an interesting question. If they’re sufficiently confident that the first stage isn’t a contributor to the failure, then they could conceivably do the in-flight abort test with a structural simulator of the upper stage. The in-flight abort is supposed to happen at or near max-Q, and the failure happened after it, so strictly speaking they don’t need a functioning upper stage to do the test. Little Joe II certainly didn’t have one.

          • Art

            Joe Why would I try to refute facts? Why would I try to scare away any opposition, since you can read my thoughts. I seek information. I know what argumentation is & debate is. Debate is basically an organized form of arguing your point, fairly.

            The last human rated spacecraft that Boeing was a prime contractor on, parts of it ended up all over my county, on my property, on my friends & relatives properties amongst others. Every now & then we still will find a small bit of debris from STS-107. But, it’s very small. We, the residents here, are reminded of it everyday because of the museum that was built to honor STS-107 here. Some of the people that I talk to, here(my hometown), doesn’t even know about the Commercial Crew Program. They just hope that nothing else falls out of the sky and scares the living hell out of them & their livestock or run the deer off of their lease. I have explained many times about the CCP & how we (my voting district) needs representatives & senators in Washington, DC that will bring a new age of opportunity to our children through Human Space Exploration. I didn’t know about Boeing being perceived as the primary crew transport provider. It’s not something that NASA said. Everytime I ask my cousin, an engineer at JSC, about the CCP, she says that she works ISS support. By the way, this is Senator Ted Cruz’s voting district. He has many supporters here.

            • Joe

              Art,

              The question was: “Which people would those be Art?”

              You replied:

              – “Why would I try to refute facts? Why would I try to scare away any opposition, since you can read my thoughts. I seek information. I know what argumentation is & debate is. Debate is basically an organized form of arguing your point, fairly.”

              – “The last human rated spacecraft that Boeing was a prime contractor on, parts of it ended up all over my county, on my property, on my friends & relatives properties amongst others. Every now & then we still will find a small bit of debris from STS-107.” (Somewhat like the last spacecraft that SpaceX was prime contractor on is now washing up on the shores of Brevard County).

              – “Some of the people that I talk to, here(my hometown), doesn’t even know about the Commercial Crew Program. They just hope that nothing else falls out of the sky and scares the living hell out of them & their livestock or run the deer off of their lease.”

              – Etc.

              That is a lot of (seemingly) very angry ranting, but not even an attempt to address the question.

              Therefore, there is no appropriate response except; try to have a nice evening.

    • Jim Hillhouse

      The CCiCap and CCtCap milestones and the amount awarded were drawn-up by that contractor with very little NASA input. As the NASA PAO told me a year ago, “The Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCap) activity is for the industry partners to develop their own systems, at their own pace using milestones they proposed, which NASA supports.”If SpaceX had a demanding set of CCiCap milestones priced too low to actually complete in the allotted time, to paraphrase Shakespeare, “…the fault lies not in the stars dear Brutus but with SpaceX’s own self”. And SpaceX is very late in completing its CCiCap milestones. Let’s take CCiCap Milestone 13, for instance.

      Originally CCiCap milestone 13, “Integrated CDR”, was to be completed in March 2014.

      But Milestone 13 proved to be too much for SpaceX to complete at once and by March 2014. In April 2014, at SpaceX’s request, Milestone 13 was broken-out into A and B milestones. Then, in July 2014 Milestone 13A was broken into A, C, and D, which were slated for completion by March 2015. By February 2015, Milestone 13A, C, D had been expanded to include an E sub-milestone, Milestone 13D became “Interim Progress Crew Vehicle Delta CDR ” and a new Milestone 13E “Delta Crew Vehicle Critical Design Review (CDR)”, which had been Milestone 13D, was made.

      So now a milestone that was subdivided and moved back a year at the request of SpaceX, was again subdivided and moved back an additional 8 months, making the total delay 20 months. Yikes!

      Here’s what CCiCap Milestone 13’s evolution looks like:

      February 2014:
      —Milestone 13: Integrated CDR

      March 2014:
      —Milestone 13A:
      —Milestone 13B: Grounds Systems and Mission Ops CDR

      June 2014:
      —Milestone 13A:
      —Milestone 13B: Grounds Systems and Mission Ops CDR
      —Milestone 13C: Crew Vehicle Technical Integration Meetings (originally part of 13A)
      -—Milestone 13D: Delta Crew Vehicle CDR (originally part of 13A)

      February 2015
      —Milestone 13A: Qualification test for the primary structure of its Dragon spacecraft.
      —Milestone 13B: Ground Systems and Mission Ops CDR
      —Milestone 13C: Crew Vehicle Technical Integration Meetings (2014)
      —Milestone 13D: Interim Progress Crew Vehicle Delta CDR
      —Milestone 13E: Delta Crew Vehicle CDR (Dec. 2015)

      It bears reminding that Milestone 14, “Inflight Abort” remains to be completed as well.

      All of this means that SpaceX will be nearly 2 years behind schedule in completing its CCiCap milestones.

      Boeing completed all of its CCiCap milestones by August 2014, a mere 6 months behind the original schedule. This is likely one of the reasons why the NASA gave Boeing a higher score than SpaceX when it came to understanding how long and the resources it would take to complete the CCtCap milestones.

      And it seems that SpaceX is significantly behind schedule already in completing its CCtCap milestones, as can be seen over at Parabolic Arc,

      http://www.parabolicarc.com/2015/03/04/spacex-cctcap-milestones/

      Apparently NASA does not believe that under the current CCtCap scheme that either contractor will be ready to fly in 2017 and this year purchased several seats on Soyuz. But given Boeing’s history, it is highly likely that Boeing, while a bit behind schedule, will be much farther along in completing its CCtCap milestones than SpaceX.

  • Tim Andrews

    In April they erected the in-flight abort test core on the pad at Vandenberg for tanking tests. The test will be first stage only, so if they reach a solid confidence level reasonably soon that the problem with CRS-7 was confined to the second stage they may be good to go.

  • Tim Andrews

    Yes, just a single stage, and not even an F9 at that. It’s a test booster with the same framework and tankage, but only 3 engines instead of 9.

    Update to the previous info based on a NASA release dated today. SpaceX is switching locations to LC39A at KSC for the test and re-scheduling it for after the first un-crewed Crew Dragon test mission to the ISS, and will use the same Crew Dragon for both, rather than the abort test vehicle that was used for pad-abort (a Cargo Dragon pressure vessel built into a Crew Dragon outer mold and outfitted with the launch escape/landing engines).

    That pushes it quite a bit further back on the calendar, but since it moves it to where I can see it without having to travel I am quite convinced it is the the right thing to do.

    • Joe

      So they are planning to recover the Crew Dragon from the un-crewed test mission to ISS in good enough condition to be reused for the abort test.

      Have to admire their optimism, but hope they are maintaining a reserve for a back up test article.

  • Tim Andrews

    Were I laying odds on a spaceflight betting pool I’d go pretty even on this one (as opposed to the long-shot on landing first stages – barring an end to their launch program I do expect they’ll get there, but I won’t be surprised by several more failures as they iteratively work out the process). They’ve already re-entered and recovered 8 Dragons and their pad abort test article from a splashdown. None of those have been re-used, but they’ve been available to know what condition they are in and how much refurbishment will be needed. As you say though, maintaining a reserve is a good plan. I can’t imagine them not keeping the pad-abort test article at least in a mothballed read-to-refurbish state.