Conference Report: 43rd Space Congress, Part 2

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

It’ll take a while for me to get through all of the sessions I recorded, but bear with me: there was some good stuff to be learned. The following two sessions were hosted on the afternoon of April 28.

Panel: KSC’s Transformation to a Multi-User Spaceport

Tom Engler from KSC‘s Center Planning and Development (CPD) Office kicked off this session by sharing the Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) vision for the future of NASA’s Florida spaceport. GSDO’s primary mission is to upgrade the Center’s facilities and hardware to support both the agency’s upcoming vehicles–Orion and SLS–as well as future commercial customers. Engler explained that GSDO has two elements to it: Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) and the 21st Century Space Launch Complex (yet another acronym, 21CSLC). These two groups are responsible for upgrading or completely rebuilding iconic sites and equipment such as the Mobile Launch Platform, Launch Complex 39B, Vehicle Assembly Building, and the Crawler-Transporter.

As I mentioned in my previous entry, High Bay 3 in the VAB is slated to support the Space Launch System (SLS) while High Bay 2 will be refitted to support commercial customers. Much of High Bay 2 has been completely gutted, with the multi-level platforms originally built for Apollo and modified for Shuttle now refitted with adjustable inserts capable of supporting multiple launch vehicles. The Crawler-Transporter is being modified to carry up to 18 million pounds for SLS vehicles, as opposed to its previous 12 million-pound limit for Shuttle. Additionally, Launch Complex (LC) 39B will feature a “clean pad” layout, with most of the launch vehicle servicing and assembly happening in the VAB and the service tower added to the mobile launch pad, rather than being a permanent fixture out in the Florida seabreeze.

Other construction projects include a new flame trench under LC 39B, a new small-class launch site in one corner of the 39B complex, as well as updates to Control Room 4 in the Launch Control Center (LCC) to support commercial operations…and GSDO still isn’t finished. Other old equipment is being upgraded, including the data uplink station, gaseous nitrogen pipeline, and wind profiler. If there isn’t a lot of fire and smoke happening at KSC now, by 2017, there will be…a lot!

The next speaker, Darren Bedell, was from NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP). LSP is a NASA service that helps uncrewed payloads–both NASA and NASA-sponsored satellites and planetary missions–find launch vehicles to ride. They have been busy acquiring launch vehicles for multiple missions, including SMAP, DSCOVR, MMS, and Jason-3. In addition to these missions, LSP is now looking at launch vehicles for “Venture Class” (small) Earth observation missions; however, the organization is capable of identifying launch vehicles for payloads ranging from cube sats (~4 cubic inches/10 cubic centimeters) to something the size of a school bus.

Lisa Colloredo, Associate Manager for the Commercial Crew Program, walked the audience through the various phases NASA has gone through to get from experimenting with commercial launch vehicles (CCDev1) to commercial crew services. She explained that the goal of the commercial cargo and crew efforts has been to ensure that they meet safety and performance requirements without being too prescriptive beyond that. Companies that were awarded commercial crew/cargo contracts–Boeing and SpaceX–are guaranteed a minimum of two launches per contract.

Colloredo also made a point of explaining that NASA did not mandate a specific launch site or facility for commercial crew delivery. The point being, commercial launch services are not obligated to use KSC–a point of which the Center is keenly aware.

Other updates included:

  • SpaceX will be conducting a pad abort test May 5. They are pushing for their first crewed flight in late 2016, with crewed flight certification coming in 2017.
  • LC 39A is being modified to support Falcon 9 and Falcon 9 Heavy.
  • SpaceX is building a Horizontal Processing Facility at the LC 39A site.
  • KSC is still working with Sierra Nevada Corporation and Blue Origin on their launch vehicles even though they did not win the commercial crew contracts.

Bill Dowdell from KSC’s Exploration Research & Technology Program took some time to discuss the Center’s science and technology efforts. These included the BRIC-21 mission, which studied the resistance of microbes to antibiotics in zero gravity; the Portable Onboard (three-dimensional) Printer (POP-3D) on the International Space Station; the use of carbon nanotubes on the Astrobiology Exposure and Micrometeoroid Capture Experiments (ExHam) mission; and the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NEXTSTEP) program.

Bottom line: KSC is multitasking as much as it can to meet current and future space launch needs.

Paper Presentations: Spinoffs from Space Technology

I’ll confess, I didn’t pay as close attention to this session as I could have. However, I did note some interesting statistics from NASA’s Spinoff (Technology Transfer) office. At present, the program has generated the following results:

  • Over 1,100 active patents
  • Over 400 NASA Tech Brief articles
  • Over 300 active patent licenses (i.e., private-sector companies licensed to use NASA-developed patents)
  • Over 18,000 jobs
  • Over $5 billion in revenue

Companies interested in learning about the types of technologies NASA has patented can visit the Technology Transfer Portal. The general process spinoff inventions follow is:

  1. Develop
  2. Patent
  3. Solicit interest from the private sector
  4. Start discussion(s) with interested company(ies)
  5. Negotiate license

The rest of the session was devoted to two success stories:

A third presentation in this session reviewed the KSC “Swamp Works” technology team’s efforts to create simulated lunar regolith (another word for dirt found on any planet besides Earth) in an effort to facilitate in situ resource utilization (ISRU) on future exploration missions. The point of ISRU is to use on-site materials on the Moon, Mars, or other celestial bodies for useful functions, such as metals to build tools or habitat shielding or water ice to make water for drinking, hydrogen and oxygen for propellant, or other crew purposes.

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