“This is home improvement, VAB style,” said Jose Lopez, who is managing the effort to refurbish a structure that was once the biggest in the world. “We’re going for more flexibility and reliability with modern equipment. That building has many systems that haven’t been touched up since it was built (in 1965).”
Although the work is massive simply because of the scale of the VAB, Lopez said now is the time to do it and take advantage of the pause in rocket processing that is to end in a couple years.
|Image above: A closer look at the huge platforms that will be removed from the VAB’s High Bay 3. This one was taken out to make room for the Ares I-X vehicle ahead of its flight test in 2009.|
Simply put, no longer will a high bay be suitable for only one kind of rocket design.
The VAB is slated to host NASA’s Space Launch System, or SLS, as it is readied for test flights in 2017 and 2021 over Florida’s Space Coast. The SLS will rival the Saturn V for sheer size and power and is designed for several variations that the platforms would have to accommodate. Commercial companies with much smaller rockets also are expected to use the VAB’s unique facilities.
“The main thing we’re doing there is an evolvable approach where we can handle any one of these SLS vehicles, but also handle any of the commercial vehicles,” said Scott Colloredo, chief architect of the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program that is overseeing the VAB modifications. “By supporting one, it helps us to support the other.”
|Image above: A look at the future of the VAB, with High Bay 3 outfitted to stack and process the Space Launch System for deep space missions. Concept credit: NASA|
Two of the cranes can lift 325 tons, another two are rated for 250-ton loads and the fifth one is designed to hold 175 tons. They will be crucial again in the future to stack the SLS components into a launch configuration.
The doors, the largest in the world, are due for new braking systems and other modifications that will reduce wear-and-tear on the tracks and systems.
The renovation calls for removing a great deal of the infrastructure inside the VAB, some of which was installed when the structure was built in 1965. New systems, all up to modern building and safety codes, are to be installed.
There is plenty of evidence that other water and drainage pipes in the VAB are also corroding, so they will be replaced, along with boilers and chillers that feed hot and cold water into the facility.
The renovation is focusing on the building interior systems, but the building itself is in very good shape.
The work would have had to be done at some point soon whether rockets were being processed or not, Lopez said. Doing it all while keeping the structure’s systems up and able to handle normal processing demands would have been an exceptional and expensive challenge, though.
“It would have been like putting a new car engine in your trunk while keeping the same engine in the front still going,” Lopez said.