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The Cape, Chapter 4, Section 3

Future Space Operations

The ESMC 2005 Study and Prospects for the Current Generation of Unmanned Space Launch Vehicles

According to the ESMC 2005 study plan (dated 6 March 1990), the written product would consist of three volumes: the management overview (Volume I), the narrative summary (Volume II), and a review of the planning processes and conclusions associated with each of the functional areas of study (Volume III). It must be emphasized that the effort was a study-not a plan in the formal sense. It was offered as a vision of the future and a proposal of what might be possible by the year 2005. As a local initiative, it did not enjoy national visibility, and its impact on Air Force decision-makers was debatable. Nevertheless, ESMC 2005 provided another look into the future of space operations at the Cape, and it deserves at least a brief review. For our purposes, highlights from Volume III will suffice to cover the study.12

Figure 139: Structure and Feed System Commonality

According to "ESMC 2005," a future land use plan was developed to support the concentration of all launch pads along Heavy Launch Row (i.e., from Complex 46 at the eastern tip of the Cape northward to Complex 41). Under the plan, most of the land north of the Skid Strip and west of Heavy Launch Row would be reserved for vehicle processing and launch support operations. The area south of the Skid Strip would be used for payload processing and any vehicle processing overflow that could not be accommodated north to the Skid Strip. The pattern of development would make the best use of restricted real estate on the Cape, and it would provide the best protection for people and support facilities. In conjunction with the land use plan, the Cape's infrastructure would be expanded to provide new power distribution, roads, water supply and sewage treatment facilities for the new launch vehicle complexes and support facilities arrayed north and south of the Skid Strip. Since most of the existing infrastructure had been funded in piecemeal fashion over the previous four decades, the Cape's new infrastructure would be a major departure from the past. The Infrastructure Support Panel speculated that AFSPACECOM might underwrite the effort with new sources of capital investment. In any event, adequate support for the Cape's workload in 2005 would depend heavily on a modern infrastructure of roads and utilities.13

For forty years, the Cape's payload and launch processing facilities had been funded and constructed for specific launch vehicle and spacecraft programs. This customized approach to space missions caused needless duplication of facilities and ground equipment, and it spilled over into launch pad operations where extensive testing could tie up launch pads for weeks at a time. In retrospect, the whole approach was very inefficient and cumbersome. In the ESMC 2005 view, payloads and launch vehicles could be processed in automated "common use" facilities. While assembly and integration facilities might vary for classes of launch vehicles (e.g., small, medium and large), they could all share automated technologies that would remove all major integration activities from the pad. To break the grip of program-specific funding, a central authority would have to be set up to solicit funds to build "generic" complexes (e.g., a new consolidated launch operations control complex, a consolidated payload processing/encapsulation complex and a logistics and launch management center). Launch pads could be standardized for small, medium and large launch vehicles, and vehicle assembly complexes could be developed along those class lines.14

In line with the recommendations of the Infrastructure Support Panel, the Launch Processing Facilities Panel recommended Complex 17 be deactivated at the conclusion of the DELTA II program. That action would free up real estate at the south end of the Cape for industrial and administrative buildings. Thereafter, modern medium launch vehicles could lift off from any one of four austere generic launch complexes (e.g., complexes 12, 14, 16 and 36). Three other deactivated complexes (11, 13 and 15) could be reserved for future small launch vehicle operations. Unlike the medium launch pads, each of the small launch pads would get a new umbilical tower to support propellant tanking operations, pressurization and power requirements. Most of the small vehicle checkout and launch equipment would be set up at common use launch control facilities behind earth revetments near the pads. There was also some possibility that the Navy might develop Complex 46 as a small space launch complex in the future.15

The Launch Processing Facilities Panel also recommended that complexes 34 and 37 be reserved for Heavy Launch Vehicles (HLVs) for "an indefinite period." Another class of vehicles-Large Launch Vehicles (LLVs)- might be created to bridge the gap between the "old" TITAN IVs and the new modular HLVs. The LLVs could incorporate ALS technology and possibly lift payloads as heavy as 80,000 pounds into low-Earth orbit. If that strategy was followed, complexes 40 and 41 might be modified into LLV complexes around the turn of the century. Later, the Air Force could develop its class of HLVs to boost 100,000-pound to 250,000-pound payloads into orbit from Complex 34 and/or Complex 37.16

Figure 140: Map depicting possible Heavy Launch Vehicle Tow Route from the Skid Strip to Pads 34 and 37 (e.g., ALS Pads A and B)

The ESMC 2005 study was not merely a conceptual "wish list." It presented the evolution, costs and potential savings of new launch processing facilities in considerable detail. For TITAN IV launch operations, control was shifting from the Vertical Integration Building to the Launch Operations Control Center when ESMC 2005 began. The study suggested spending $110 million to consolidate DELTA II, ATLAS II and TITAN IV operations in a new Consolidated Launch Operations Control Center (CLOCC) near the new Range Operations Control Center (ROCC) at the south end of the Cape. Such an investment might save $90 million on ATLAS II and DELTA II operations. Another $100 million might be saved by the CLOCC when new medium, large and heavy launch vehicle programs were introduced around the turn of the century. Along the same lines, off-pad integration and storage of fully assembled TITAN IV vehicles could require a new $60 million Final Assembly Building (FAB) and a $16 million vehicle transporter system, but the cost of those initiatives would be more than offset by the savings in downtime due to current vehicle assembly bottlenecks. The introduction of laser-initiated ordnance on TITAN IVs could allow simultaneous on-pad operations at complexes 40 and 41, thereby saving additional processing time.17

According to the ESMC 2005 scenario, approximately $2.4 billion might be invested on medium, large and heavy launch vehicle assembly and integration facilities over a seven-year period. Another $100,000,000 would be needed to convert complexes 40 and 41 into research and development facilities after the heavy launch vehicles came on line. By 2005, the study's contributors imagined heavy launch vehicle pads might exist on or near complexes 34 and 37. The new pads would cost about $630 million in 1990 dollars. Modernized medium and large launch vehicle programs could require $310,000,000 more in engineering and support facilities. With regard to payload processing facilities, $250,000,000 might be needed for TITAN IV "off-pad" processing by the turn of the century. Another $45,000,000 might be spent on transportation, storage and fairing assembly requirements for the new off-line TITAN payloads. Large and heavy launch vehicle payload processing might cost another $619,000,000, but the new medium launch vehicle program could benefit from that development and buy its own payload encapsulation capabilities for about $30,000,000.18

While many other topics were addressed in the ESMC 2005 study, the preceding paragraphs provide a summary of the proposals likely to have the greatest impact on future space launch operations at the Cape-provided the overall scenario of new large and heavy launch vehicles is adopted eventually. Given the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the increasingly chilly fiscal climate in America in the 1990s, it is by no means certain that any of the study's recommendations will be adopted. More immediate problems challenge U.S. military space operations. As of this writing, the recent flight failure of a TITAN IV at Vandenberg has delayed TITAN/CENTAUR operations at the Cape, and the Solid Rocket Motor Upgrade (SRMU) has experienced more than its share of development problems in recent years. On the positive side, the military space program has displayed amazing resilience, most notably after the Challenger disaster in 1986. It is fair to say that the TITAN IV program has encountered lengthy, but not insurmountable, delays. If the past is any guide, the TITAN IV will be a feature of the Cape's military space operations for many years to come.19

On the other hand, if the circumstances governing military space operations change sufficiently, the nation may be faced with some hard choices. If, for the sake of argument, the TITAN IV/CENTAUR can not provide the reliability the Defense Department needs for its most critical payloads, some military payloads may be manifested as Space Shuttle missions or transferred to a heavy lifting version of the ARIANE, perhaps the ARIANE 5. Another vehicle may be introduced, or the payloads themselves might be downsized to meet changing world conditions. All of those alternatives are within the realm of possibility, though there may be little (if any) direct evidence to bear any of them out. Barring extraterrestrial influences, unmanned launch vehicles with liquid rocket engines and solid rocket motors will be the mainstay of military space operations at the Cape for at least another generation and probably two. A new manned vehicle may eventually replace the old reliable boosters and the Space Shuttle in two generations, but there are many technological unknowns associated with that approach, and there will be questions concerning a new manned system's reliability, if the Space Shuttle is any guide. In the short and middle term, we keep coming back to the current generation of ATLAS II, DELTA II and TITAN IV launch vehicles. If their manufacturers can continue to launch them safely, successfully and in a reasonably timely fashion, medium and heavy unmanned boosters should have a bright future at the Cape. If not, other alternatives will have to be pursued.

The Cape: Miltary Space Operations 1971-1992
by Mark C. Cleary, Chief Historian
45 Space Wing Office of History
1201 Minuteman Ave, Patrick AFB, FL 32925

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