NASA has completed its critical design review for the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program (GSDO). The proposed changes to the ground services at the Kennedy Space Flight Center, Florida, would prepare the site to host NASA's next-generation launch vehicle, which is set to lift off from the site some time in 2018.

For obvious reasons, the development of cutting-edge rockets and spacecraft garners the vast majority of media attention in the aerospace sector, leaving the significant investments and design savvy that goes into reforming the architecture and practices of the ground-based element of launch systems relatively overlooked.

This is an interesting quirk, as without an upgrade to these vital facilities, mankind's mission to Mars may as well be a doodle on a napkin. NASA is in the process of designing and fabricating a vast rocket, known as the Space Launch System, which upon completion will represent the most powerful rocket ever created.

Launching this behemoth would not have been possible under the current launch architecture, so to prepare for the onset of an intensive campaign of launches that will eventually take mankind to Mars, NASA has initiated an overhaul of its facilities at the Kennedy Space Flight Center.

Crawler-transporter 2 pictured with the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center(Credit: NASA/Amber Watson)

The recently completed critical design review represents a vital step in the redesign process, taking the form of an in-depth examination of the proposed alterations to the exiting launch architecture. One of the key elements of the review included an assessment of the future High Bay 3 area of the existing Vehicle Assembly Building, in which the SLS would be assembled and tested.

Also reviewed were the plans to develop a new mobile launcher, which would be responsible for transferring the SLS to its launch pad atop an enormous crawler-transporter, which is itself an upgrade to a platform that has been in service since 1965.

"The completion of this review represents a critical milestone for the GSDO team that clearly demonstrates we are on track with the launch site upgrades required to support SLS and Orion test, checkout and launch in 2018," states GSDO program manager Mike Bolger.

Some alterations to the ground systems architecture are already taking place. The re-bricking of the flame trench at Pad 39B is currently underway. This reinforcement will allow the launch site to better cope with the punishing force created by the RS-25 engines located at the base of the SLS rocket. Work has also began on modifying NASA's mobile launch platform, including structural reinforcement, and an enlargement of the exhaust hole at the platform's base.

The next step in the critical design review process will see the report placed before senior agency officials and a further independent review. Once these steps are complete, the grounds systems can move in to the fabrication and instillation phase.

Source: NASA

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