In 2002, NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center, home to Space Shuttle launches and gateway to the universe, celebrates its 40-year anniversaryand 40 years of technology utilization. Because NASA believes that advancing space technology is vital to U.S. economic health, the Agency recently designated Kennedy as the Spaceport Technology Center, a world-class resource for the emerging space transportation industry. No other site in the world processes and launches as many different types of reusable and expendable space vehicles.
Kennedy is responsible for NASA's launch and payload processing systems. It is also the lead center for acquisition and management of expendable launch vehicle services and payload carriers. Kennedy and its neighbor, the U.S. Air Force's 45th Space Wing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, share a rich history of cooperation in perfecting space launch technologies. To recognize this partnership and to better serve the commercial space industry, the two organizations recently merged various support activities to establish the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. With so many space-related programs underway, it is no wonder that Florida's Space Coast is now helping to set the standard for future spaceports around the globe.
This was not always the case. Prior to official establishment of the Center in 1962, NASA and numerous private contractors were fully occupied with developing the technology and equipment necessary to put the Project Mercury astronauts into space atop Redstone and Atlas rockets. Commercial transfer of new technologies was not a priority. Research grants and contracts were the primary means of sharing information on space-related innovations.
During the Gemini and Apollo Moon missions, a new era of innovation began. NASA soon realized the commercial benefits of these innovations and in 1962 established the Technology Utilization Program. In that same year, President Lyndon B. Johnson renamed the Cape Canaveral Launch Operations Center in honor of President John F. Kennedy, whose vision of space travel was realized in July 1969 when three Americans landed on the Moon. During this era, a noteworthy technology was developed: a rocket fuel tank gauging system that helped land the astronauts safely on the Moon. Its commercial application eventually earned it a place in history with a NASA Space Act Award.
Known as the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Custody Transfer System, this Apollo-born technology is used by more than three-quarters of the world's LNG tankers and is manufactured by the Foxboro Company of Massachusetts (now Invensys Process Systems/Foxboro). The original technology, developed by Robert Blanchard and Arthur Sherburne of Trans-Sonics, Inc., provided precise capacitance liquid-level gauging, a capability required by NASA for real-time rocket fuel gauging on the Saturn V and lunar landing modules. The accurate readout of remaining fuel was critical to the performance of the rockets, as was shown in 1969 when Apollo 11 achieved the first manned lunar landing. Although recent technologies are now starting to replace this LNG system, the innovation is still used on 115 tankers worldwide with a trade valued at $20 billion a year.
NASA's Advanced Technology Program was launched in 1976, which led to Kennedy's Technology Outreach Program and the creation of Regional Technology Transfer Centers, all aimed at more vigorously transferring space technologies to the public. The Space Shuttle era was here, and Americans became familiar with the concept of a Space Transportation System. As a result of the Technology Transfer Acts of the 1980s, even stronger transfer strategies began to emerge to publicize and disseminate Shuttle-related innovations.
The complexity of the Space Transportation System spawned the development of many new technologies related to fluid systems; launch pad structures and materials; process and human factors engineering; range technologies; command, control, and monitoring technologies; and biological sciences. Kennedy innovators, with expertise in ground support equipment, contributed greatly to the effort, which in turn generated numerous commercial spinoffs.
The development of one important safety-related technology began in 1979, when engineers designed a Lightning Detection and Ranging (LDAR) system to protect Shuttle launch personnel and equipment during thunderstorms. Global Atmospherics, Inc., of Tucson, Arizona, later joined with NASA in a Space Act Agreement to upgrade and commercialize the LDAR. The three-dimensional system pinpoints the location and altitude of in-cloud and cloud-to-cloud lightning by measuring the exact arrival times of electromagnetic pulses. LDAR locates lightning in near real time. The data are then used to define the existence and extent of the lightning hazard and to provide more accurate lightning warnings to Spaceport workers. The company focused its product on multiple markets, including electric utilities, the aviation community, commercial rocket launches, recreational facilities, construction, atmospheric research, and meteorology.
Another successful spinoff resulted from the development of a lubricant for the six-million-pound crawler/transporter used to move the Space Shuttle and Mobile Launcher Platform from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pad. Kennedy contacted Sun Coast Chemicals of Daytona, Inc., to help develop a more environmentally friendly lubricant. Working in cooperation with Kennedy, Sun Coast Chemicals developed the X-1R® Crawler Track Lubricant in just 8 months. Infrared thermography testing on the crawler revealed that the lubricant brought about the significant reduction in wear and heat that NASA was looking for. Sun Coast Chemicals went on to successfully market dozens of lubricating products and was chosen by the U.S. Space Foundation as a Space Technology Hall of Fame winner in 2000.
In 1994, NASA's Agenda for Change placed new emphasis on technology transfer. Responding to this new agenda, Kennedy's Technology Commercialization Office began using a wider range of resources to disseminate information to the public. The outsourcing of support functions, the development of Internet tools, and mission-related partnerships are some of the steps taking Kennedy-developed technologies in new directions. With new emphasis on the International Space Station (ISS), the Spaceport Technology Center, and next-generation manned spaceships, new technologies continue to appear in support of these plans, including advanced computer software tools.
One tool, the Control Monitor Unit, provides a comprehensive array of capabilities for controlling and monitoring complex systems of equipment developed for the ISS. A Florida-based company, Command and Control Technologies (CCT) Corporation, licensed the technology and enhanced the software. The resulting product is now automating commercial, multivehicle spaceport launch control systems in four states. Three products are currently on the market: the Command and Control ToolkitTM (CCT's signature product), the T-ZeroTM launch control software, and the Spaceport RangeNetTM software. The company, recognized as NASA-Kennedy's 1998 Small Business Subcontractor of the Year, was named one of the 100 fastest-growing Florida companies in 2000.
Also in 2000, the NASA Headquarters Inventions and Contributions Board bestowed another Shuttle-based innovation the Commercial Invention of the Year Award, for a system that turns rocket fuel into fertilizer. The Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) Scrubber Liquor to Fertilizer system was installed at Shuttle Pad 39A. NASA's Dr. Clyde Parrish, Dr. Dale Lueck, and Andrew Kelly, and Dynacs Inc.'s Paul Gamble developed the new process in response to an Agency request to reduce the hazardous waste stream captured in a scrubber when a toxic oxidizer is transferred back and forth from storage tanks into the Shuttle's Orbital Maneuvering Subsystem and Reaction Control System. The innovation converts NOx into potassium nitrate, a primary fertilizer material. NASA licensed the technology to Phoenix Systems International Inc., of McDonald, Ohio, an engineering firm that develops utility and industrial fossil fuel technologies.
Launching ventures beyond our own planet has called forth the best efforts of America's scientists, engineers, and managers. Meeting this challenge has expanded knowledge and skills in virtually every field of science and technology. Kennedy's Technology Commercialization Office helps businesses avoid the costly process of "reinventing the wheel" by making them aware that the technology they need may already be available.
The Center's research efforts are expanding to include the Space Experiment Research and Processing Laboratory, a research facility under construction at the new International Space Research Park. The laboratory will serve the ISS as the primary gateway for ground-based investigations in fundamental and applied biological science. The 400-acre park is cosponsored by NASA and the State of Florida to facilitate new opportunities emerging for expanded involvement by industry and academia.
For 40 years, Kennedy has successfully developed new technologies in support of the space program. Today, the Center stands ready to meet the challenges of the 21st century as a major partner in the construction and operation of spaceports on Earth, in orbit, and beyond.
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