No SLS-Orion, No Need for KSC, Director Says

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida may be remaking itself into a multiuser spaceport, with commercial entities sharing facilities with the government. But without NASA’s planned heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket and Orion deep-space capsule, the center has no reason to exist, director Bob Cabana said.

“If we do not have this capability to fly beyond our planet to explore on a government rocket — something that is way too expensive for a commercial company to do — we don’t need KSC anymore,” Cabana said during a May 13 speech to the National Space Club Florida Committee in Cape Canaveral.

NASA is spending about $3 billion a year to develop the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft, with the rocket’s first unmanned test flight slated for late 2017. A second test flight, this time with astronauts aboard, would follow in 2021. NASA wants to use the system in 2025 to send a crew to an asteroid that will have been robotically repositioned into a high lunar orbit. Eventually, the rocket and capsule would be used for human expeditions to Mars.

Kennedy Space Center also is working with Space Florida, a state-backed economic development organization, and several companies, including Boeing and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., to spin off facilities and equipment idled by the shutdown of the space shuttle program three years ago.

“We want to be diversified at the Cape,” Cabana said. “We’ve set a course where we need to go and we are making it happen.”

NASA currently employs about 5,800 contractors and 2,000 civil servants at the Florida spaceport, Cabana said.