Boeing Prepares for Move into Space Shuttle Hangar

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — As NASA prepares to send off the second of its three space shuttles to a museum, workers here were preparing to begin renovating a shuttle processing hangar Boeing intends to use to build its CST-100 commercial space taxis.

“I have mixed emotions when I come in here, thinking about the shuttle but then looking forward to what’s coming next,” John Elbon, vice president and program manager for Boeing’s commercial crew programs, told reporters during a recent tour of Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF)-3 at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

The retirement of the space shuttles last year left NASA flush with facilities and equipment no longer needed, particularly in Florida.

“We’re looking at infrastructure across the agency and trying to get the best return on the taxpayer’s investment,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “We’re just trying to help free enterprise.”

NASA is working with Space Florida, a state-backed economic development agency, to draw up agreements allowing Boeing and other companies use of the OPF and other facilities in and around KSC. Last month, also under the auspices of Space Florida, XCOR Aerospace announced plans for a manufacturing and operations center for its Lynx suborbital spaceships at the Shuttle Landing Facility.

Space Florida is paying for the demolition of the giant platforms inside OPF-3, which was shuttle Discovery’s bay. That shuttle is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center outside Washington. Sister ship Endeavour is due to leave KSC Sept. 17 for the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

The demolition and modernization of OPF-3 is part of a first-of-a-kind deal, valued at about $50 million, which includes facility upgrades and financing.

“This is the first time that this kind of transition is occurring, so it’s new ground being plowed by NASA in making assets available for commercial use,” Space Florida President Frank DiBello said.

“There are a lot of legal loopholes that you have to go through,” added Bolden. “We want to make sure that it’s done properly and when NASA hands over property to Space Florida, we’re done.”

NASA also is directly supporting Boeing’s development of its seven-person CST-100 capsule, one of three commercial spaceships vying to fly astronauts to the international space station, a service now provided exclusively by Russia.

Under NASA’s third round of contracts to spur commercial spaceship development, Boeing last month was awarded $460 million for 21 months of work on its CST-100.

Its prime competitor, Space Exploration Technologies Corp, received $440 million to continue evolving its Dragon cargo capsule into a passenger ship. Sierra Nevada Corp. won $212.5 million to work on Dream Chaser, a winged vehicle modeled after NASA’s HL-20 craft.

Ultimately, Boeing’s plan for the shuttle processing hangar is contingent upon its winning follow-on contracts from NASA and other customers to manufacture the vehicles. The company expects to employ about 550 workers at its Kennedy Space Center site to assemble and operate the CST-100, which is designed to launch aboard Atlas 5 rockets flying from the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The vehicles will land at either Edwards Air Force Base in California or White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and be returned to Florida for refurbishment and reflight. Each spacecraft is designed to fly 10 times.

Elbon said the company will begin ramping up with 100 to 200 new hires even before the CST-100 gets to its critical design review, which is targeted for April 2014.

The first vehicle built at Kennedy will be for a pad abort test in late 2015 or early 2016. Current schedules call for a test flight in 2016 and flights to the space station beginning in 2017, Elbon said.