Former Shuttle Hangar Will Host X-37B Spaceplane

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Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems of El Segundo, Calif., on Jan. 3 announced plans to convert a former space shuttle hangar at Kennedy Space Center in Florida into a maintenance facility for the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B unmanned spaceplane.

In a press release, Boeing said investments are being made to convert the former Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF)-1, but provided few additional details. Boeing spokeswoman Diana Ball, citing the “proprietary” nature of the X-37B program, declined to say who was financing the refurbishment project, how much it would cost, or how many additional jobs it would bring to the Kennedy facility.

The Boeing-built X-37B is a reusable unmanned orbital maneuvering vehicle that is launched atop an unmanned rocket and returns to Earth much like the NASA’s now-retired space shuttle, gliding in for a runway landing. Its three missions to date — the last of which launched more than a year ago and is still in progress — are classified.  

Boeing’s press release was posted on the website of Space Florida, an aerospace economic development agency, and distributed to Florida media but was not posted to the Boeing website.  The release included statements from several state-funded Florida economic development agencies.

OPF-1 is a stone’s throw from OPF-3, which is being refurbished by Space Florida and will house Boeing’s planned CST-100 commercial crew capsule, which is being developed to ferry crews to and from the international space station.

Tina Lange, a spokeswoman for Space Florida, did not return phone calls seeking comment. 

OPF-1 was used in 2012 to prepare NASA’s retired Space Shuttle Atlantis for display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

“Boeing’s choice to further expand its presence on Florida’s Space Coast validates the state’s position as a leader in aerospace. The company’s investment and the jobs created add to this extensive sector,” Gray Swoope, president and chief executive of Enterprise Florida, said in the release. 

Ball said construction is underway and is expected to be completed by the second quarter of 2015.

The facility will allow the Air Force to land, recover, refurbish and relaunch the X-37B, the Boeing press release said. Ball declined to say where the X-37B is currently housed.  

All three X-37B missions to date were launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which is co-located with Kennedy. The first two missions ended with landings at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.