Kennedy Space Center is in the middle of a 21st Century Transformation. / NASA

Is Kennedy Space Center ready for the future?

Feb 17, 2013

Since before the shuttle’s retirement, NASA has touted plans to transform Kennedy Space Center into a futuristic spaceport supporting launches of every kind of government or commercial mission.

Concept images show multiple rockets being processed simultaneously inside the Vehicle Assembly Building and sharing a common launch pad, while more rockets blast off across the Cape and space planes zip in and out of the former shuttle runway.

NASA established the “21st Century Space Launch Complex” program to help implement the vision, which promised to make Kennedy less dependent on a single government space program and attract jobs with more frequent launches.

That future may yet come, but a review of more than $1.3 billion committed to Kennedy’s modernization since 2011 shows an overwhelming focus so far on one user: NASA’s own Space Launch System rocket.

Three-quarters of the money has been directed exclusively at preparing for an unmanned first launch of NASA’s heavy-lift SLS rocket and an Orion capsule in late 2017.

That includes this year’s request for $454 million in SLS-related “exploration ground systems” at KSC, nearly 10 times the $45.7 million requested for “21st Century” improvements intended to benefit multiple users.

Of the $228 million in 21st Century funds obligated through last year, roughly half went to projects for which SLS is the only certain user.

For example, a crawler-transporter designed in 1962 to carry moon rockets and later adapted to carry shuttles is receiving a $35 million overhaul thanks to the 21st Century program. It could move any rocket, but is being upgraded primarily to haul the 321-foot, 5.5-million pound first version of the SLS.

Another $71 million helped modify launch pad 39B and the assembly building, which also are required for SLS missions.

Each of those assets is now said to have “multi-use” capability, but no company has committed to using them. Discussions with the major launch companies continue.

Kennedy officials say they are laying the foundation for their long-term vision of a multi-user spaceport, while making the most of limited funding for the agency’s flagship human exploration program.

Read more: Is Kennedy Space Center ready for the future? | FLORIDA TODAY |

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