By Rebecca Regan
Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
A facility full of platforms that once fit NASA’s space shuttles like a glove is transitioning to make room for a new fleet of low-Earth orbit bound spacecraft.
Now called the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF), the former Orbiter Processing Facilty-3 (OPF-3) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is not only going through major renovations to support the manufacturing of The Boeing Company’s CST-100 spacecraft. It’s also receiving international recognition as an innovative approach for converting excess government buildings into next-generation commercial facilities.
“The agreement that we put in place to get OPF-3 turned over to Space Florida so that they could make it available to Boeing really set the stage for a model that can be used time and time again,” said Bob Cabana, Kennedy’s center director. “It just makes sense that if we have facilities that we have absolutely no use for in NASA’s Space Launch System or Orion programs, we ought to be able to find a way to bring other work into those facilities.”
That land-use agreement is what garnered international attention from organizations such as CoreNet Global and the International Economic Development Council (IEDC). Within the past few months, both organizations, made up of site selection consultants, real estate developers and property managers, gave Space Florida top honors for innovation in economic development. The agreement was honored with CoreNet’s 13th Annual H. Bruce Russell Global Innovator’s Award and the IEDC’s Silver Excellence in Economic Development Award for the Igniting Innovation Capital Acceleration Showcase in the category of “Special Event for Communities with Populations of 500,000 or more.”
“What we did together collaboratively with NASA was come up with a template that works well,” said Frank DiBello, Space Florida president. “It cut a lot of new ground in terms of how to transfer excess NASA property to the private sector and we became an agent for accomplishing that change.”
Before Boeing’s CST-100 will take up residency inside C3PF and the adjacent Space Shuttle Main Engine Facility in the summer of 2013, both will undergo demolition and modernization phases. For the past month and a half, workers with Hensel Phelps Construction Co. of Orlando, Fla., have been busy carefully bringing down the shuttle’s old processing stands to make way for a clean-floor factory-like concept.
“With the removal of legacy Space Shuttle Program infrastructure, the building will be transformed into a clean factory system layout for spacecraft production and refurbishment,” said Chuck Hardison, Boeing’s manager of CST-100 Production and Ground Systems. “We’ll have defined factory positions to support different phases of the spacecraft being built.”
Boeing is one of three companies working with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program during the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) phase to develop integrated spacecraft and launch vehicle systems that could be called on to fly Americans to and from low-Earth orbit in the future. The CST-100 is designed to launch atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 41, a little more than 7 miles away from C3PF.
“If you can be building your spacecraft close to the point of launch, you gain significant advantage in the marketplace,” DiBello said.
Hardison said the CST-100 will be covered by a protective container and transported to the launch pad atop a KMAG transporter, much like NASA’s critical satellites are taken to their launch vehicles prior to launch.
Besides being based near the launch site, DiBello said there’s another reason the Space Coast was a natural choice for Boeing to locate its commercial spaceflight operations at Kennedy. The company anticipates putting about 550 uniquely skilled engineers and technicians here back to work.
“We expect it to be a very bustling place at full operations,” Hardison said. “When we’re in the full operational services phase, we expect to see a large increase in the number of people working here.”
While work to house Boeing’s spacecraft is ongoing, the company is busy developing the support equipment, tooling and control systems that will be needed for the production and manufacturing phases. The Processing Control Center (PCC) also will be readied to support CST-100 ground and mission operations and a program office for Boeing. Meanwhile, Kennedy is continuing to work with Space Florida to attract more companies to lease excess facilities and equipment at the center.
“We believe in the next decade, apart from support of NASA’s space exploration program, that there will be an era of increasing commercial activity in space,” DiBello said. “The kind of work that’s going on here in support of commercial crew will enable other commercial players to get into low-Earth orbit operations.”