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New Launch Facilities


In the mid-1980s the Air Force and SDIO evaluated launch support requirements for the Advanced Launch System (ALS). A launch complex (SLC-X) for VAFB (WTR) sited an Industrial Area and Launch Pad south of the existing SLC-6. The required number of pads was one or two. The major limitations related to ALS Launch Pad siting at VAFB was over flight of other launch facilities and acoustical interference implications. The siting was close enough to use some existing facilities. The Launch Control Center, Tank Checkout Facility, Solid Rocket Booster Processing Facilities and Docking Facility would be usable with little or no modification. The assumed STS launch rate of 2 flight per year utilized these facilities at approximately 50% of their capacity. SLC-6 itself is compatible with some vehicle systems.

The major features of the ground processing operations included: vertical launch of cargo vehicle; both horizontal and vertical recovery of reusable components (dependent on component characteristics); Integrate, Transfer and Launch (ITL); vertical vehicle integration; payload encapsulation; payload integration off-pad; and minimal "factory" operations at the launch site.

The combined SDIO vehicle and STS launch rates determine what additional specific facilities were required. The proposed Industrial Area, which includes the Stacking and Integration Building (SIB) and Payload Integration Facility (PIP), and Launch Pad were designed to accommodate the bulk of the SDI missions with the SLC-6 facility being used for contingencies and surges. The existing runway at North VAFB was utilized to recover winged vehicles. Existing solid rocket booster recovery assets were used to recover solid rocket booster cases. The existing highway from North VAFB to SLC-6 was modified as required to accommodate the personnel and material transfer requirements.

Concurrent use of SLC-6 by STS and some SDI vehicles was considered unworkable. An integrate, transfer and launch processing concept accommodated concurrent launch capability of dissimilar vehicles at a common launch pad. In this case, an additional MLP compatible with STS geometry, at least one cell configured for the STS stacking and integration, and STS on-pad vehicle and payload access and servicing provisions must be provided by the new launch complex. SLC-6 could then be modified to launch the SDI vehicle. A second option was to develop a Shuttle Derived Cargo Vehicle which was compatible with a dual launch capability at SLC-6 and a second SDI vehicle. This option resulted in a more expensive architecture but does provide the desired launch pad surge capability as well as an alternate launch vehicle. Planning for SLC-X eventually transitioned to SLC-7.

SLC-M Multi-Purpose Launch Complex(2)

The National Facilities Study recommended converting one medium class (3800 to 4500 LB payload) Space Launch Complex (SLC) to a multi-purpose pad for VAFB Delta, Atlas, and Titan vehicles and deactivating two SLCs. This recommendation was based on a projected 50% utilization rate of VAFB medium class SLCs (SLC 3 & 4) through 1998. Development of a multipurpose launch complex at SLC-3W site was preferable to continuing piece meal upgrades and costly maintenance on existing forty year old facilities. A multi-purpose launch complex can be developed with defined interfaces to support all medium class boosters. The launch vehicle manufacturers and spacecraft developers must design their future hardware to accommodate these interfaces.

The Air Force awarded three study contracts in January 1992 to determine the feasibility of launching different medium class vehicles (e.g., Atlas II, Delta II, Titan II, and NLS-3) from a single launch complex at Vandenberg AFB.(3) Air Force Material Command Space and Missile Center (AFMC-SMC) conducted a Multi-Vehicle Launch Complex study (MVLC) 18 May 1992; developed the generic launch complex concept and defined a generic complex architecture to replace SLC-3W. The conversion would take 33 month and cost $440 million including environmental assessment, communications, unique equipment, gaseous nitrogen piping, power, and solid rocket upgrades. Program activation by September 1994 would provide a multi-purpose complex pad by end of CY 1997. A 30 Space Wing analysis shows that the current programs can be accommodated during construction and would allow an orderly closure of SLC-4W by 1997 and SLC-2W by 1998. The AFMC-SMC study did not address using commercial enterprises as a back-up during transition to a multi-purpose complex.

The National Facilities Study recommended that the MVLC study should be updated to include using a combination of government and commercial operations, optimizing the use of facilities, closing under-utilized complexes, centralize government infrastructure, and developing recommendations for pad construction. The benefits to be derived from this action were centralized, modernized government infrastructure, increased efficiency from commonalty, simplified interfaces and procedures, and lower life-cycle launch costs. Disadvantages include greater up front cost, developing new integration procedures, and requiring spacecraft users to develop their payload and integration for a launch vehicle environmental rather than a specified booster. Commercial enterprises are currently using grant money to establish three commercial type medium launch pads to support the projected small and medium class spacecraft. Closing two government pads and using commercial enterprises would optimize the launch facility capability consistent with the mission model through 2023.


1. Adapted from: "Space Transportation Architecture Study -- Launch Systems for the Strategic Defense Initiative," Special Report, December 1986, pages 70-73.

2. Adapted from: NASA/DOD/DOT National Facilities Study National Facilities Study -- Volume 4 -- Space Operations Facilities Task Group, 29 April 1994, page 470-471.

3. Adapted from: Testimony by Lt. Gen. John E. Jaquish, principal deputy, assistant secretary of the Air Force (acquisition) and Maj. Gen. Donald G. Hard, director of space programs, assistant secretary of the Air Force (acquisition) to the House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Defense, in Washington, DC, 6 May 1992.

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Page last modified: 20-07-2011 23:26:14 ZULU