KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — After a 22-year hiatus, NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense are resuming a partnership for a classified program that will be based at the Kennedy Space Center.
NASA flew secret missions for the military 10 times between January 1985 and December 1992, setting up a separate firing room, blacking out communications and abiding by a host of restrictions and operational procedures to accommodate the Defense Department’s demand for secrecy. This time around, NASA intends to be nothing more than a host for the Air Force’s classified X-37B program, which will lease two of the space shuttle’s mothballed processing hangars.
“It is different from shuttle. It’s not the same vehicle that has to flow through the [Vehicle Assembly Building] and that does a lot of the same shuttle operations [as nonclassified missions]. X-37B is basically a separable capability in one facility,” Scott Colloredo, director of KSC’s Center Planning and Development Directorate, told SpaceNews.
Unlike the military’s shuttle missions, KSC personnel will not need extra security clearances to support the X-37B program. “Their operation, they handle it,” Colloredo said.
Likewise, KSC expects no changes to its security procedures. “They fit into our systems,” he said.
“Our role now is something I like to call a ‘ground traffic controller.’ The facilities [at KSC] are separated, and with that advantage … we’re able to keep different operations separate from each other. … We have dozens of partnerships and our job is to make sure they don’t conflict with one another so we don’t site one partner in one facility that would interfere with operations with another partner in another facility,” he said.
The X-37B program, which currently consists of two nearly 9-meter-long robotic spaceplanes, is taking over Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) bays 1 and 2.
NASA and the Air Force refused to release terms of the contract.
So far, the Air Force has flown its first X-37B vehicle twice and its second spacecraft once. The vehicles launch aboard United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rockets from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, located just south of KSC, and so far all have landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
A fourth mission is planned for 2015, and that flight will be able to land at KSC’s shuttle runway, Air Force spokesman Chris Hoyler wrote in an email to SpaceNews.
Boeing, the prime contractor for the X-37B program, has a separate lease agreement for OPF-3 for its NASA-backed CST-100 commercial crew capsule. The OPF-3 agreement is with Space Florida, a state-backed economic development agency, which not only is leasing the shuttle hangar from NASA but also is in the process of negotiating a contract for the shuttle’s runway and associated facilities.
“Asset by asset, we’ve partnered those [shuttle] facilities with different users,” Colloredo said.
KSC currently has about 48 partnership agreements covering services, property leases and other business arrangements. The space center’s next solicitation will be for proposals for use of one of the Vehicle Assembly Building high bays and for three mobile launch platforms.
In the near future, NASA also will entertain land use proposals for companies and agencies interested in locating on KSC property.