NASA Headquarters and Centers

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NASA's designated Center of Excellence in launch and payload processing systems is the John F. Kennedy Space Center, situated on Florida's central Atlantic coast. This NASA center has long been a takeoff point for both expendable rockets and space travelers headed for Earth orbit and the Moon.

The Kennedy Space Center grew out of savanna and marsh, prompted by an American commitment in the 1960s to place humans on the Moon through the Apollo program. Kennedy's "space coast" real estate is now the site of Space Shuttle launches. A Shuttle Landing Facility, Orbiter Processing Facility and other installations are in place, built to handle shuttle integration and rollout, payload processing, prelaunch checkout, launch pad operations, launch recovery, and ground turnaround operations.

Kennedy Space Center is placing increasing emphasis on its advanced technology development program. This program encompasses the efforts of the entire Kennedy Space Center team, consisting of government and contractor personnel, working in partnership with academic institutions and commercial industry to transfer technology.

This center maintains a vigorous applied research program in support of shuttle launch activities, doing so since 1981. Ground support systems, launch and processing facilities, and environmental protection all receive continued attention for Kennedy Space Center to remain the nation's premier state-of-the-art spaceport.

A hallmark of this center is industrial engineering, typically used to optimize the operations phase of a project or program. The Space Shuttle is NASA's first major program to have a long-term operational phase; however, all the major current and future human space flight programs--the International Space Station, the X-33 experimental reusable launch vehicle, and any lunar base or human space flight to Mars--are also projected to have lengthy operational phases. In this regard, Kennedy has demonstrated a variety of industrial engineering methodologies, categorized into four areas: management support systems, human factors engineering, methods engineering/work measurement, and process analysis and modeling. Each of these areas is producing tangible benefits for NASA and dual-use technologies for other organizations.

Located on the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Kennedy Space Center workers have always approached their mission with an awareness of the impact on the environment. Kennedy has developed technologies that are environmentally oriented and proactive. Engineers are developing effective methods of cleaning without the use of chlorofluorocarbons. Efforts are also underway that address the safety and disposal of the hazardous fuels used in launch vehicles and satellites. For example, a new scrubber and control system has been devised to eliminate an oxidizer waste stream. The waste stream will be eliminated by using the oxidizer (nitrogen tetroxide) to produce potassium nitrate, a commercial fertilizer, while lowering the oxidizer emissions. Also, an automated multipoint detection system for toxic vapors was designed, originally geared for use on the Space Shuttle launch pad. The FTIR (Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer)-based system has been applied to monitoring a wide variety of toxic and contaminant vapors, and would be suitable for many other industrial and government applications.

A range of advanced software programs have been written at the Kennedy Space Center for application to monitoring and diagnostic systems. A ground processing scheduling system provides an artificial intelligence-based tool to aid engineers in scheduling shuttle time and assure that critical tasks are done. Another software advance is represented by a propulsion advisory tool. This expert system focuses on launch day operations to monitor the shuttle's main propulsion system's overall health, following the transfer of liquid hydrogen and oxygen through the ground systems and orbiter into the huge external tank. The software user is warned of potentially hazardous conditions in addition to suggesting a corrective action.

Two men work on the Surface Defect Analyzer
NASA seeks to transfer the KSC-developed Surface Defect Analyzer (SURDA) technology to private industry for use in industrial applications. This system is being developed to provide an accurate, in-field method of evaluating the physical dimensions of surface flaws, defects, and damage on critical surfaces of the Space Shuttle and related ground support equipment.

Nondestructive evaluation technology has also been advanced by Kennedy Space Center efforts. Inspection and verification instruments and techniques have been produced. The technology includes, but is not limited to, laser, infrared, microwave, acoustic, structured light, other sensing techniques, and computer and software systems designed to support the inspection tools and methods. This discipline of activity is directed toward reducing shuttle processing costs. Nondestructive evaluation is important for inspecting and verifying space vehicles and their components during manufacture and to continue validating those items during assembly, launch, and on orbit.

The mechanical engineering activities at the Kennedy Space Center have yielded a broad variety of analysis tools, including structural analysis, fracture mechanics, dynamic response, dynamic data, reduction, and processing. Also included are single and multiphase flow, cryogenic fluid flow and storage, and thermal insulation development. Mechanism troubleshooting has been clearly benefited by Kennedy's expertise in this arena.

Advanced electronic technologies that decrease launch vehicle and payload ground processing time and cost, improve process automation, and quality and safety--these are among the accomplishments of Kennedy's Electronics and Instrumentation Technology program. This work has promoted new concepts of data acquisition and transmission, advanced audio systems, digital computer-controlled video, environmental monitoring and gas detection instrumentation, and circuit monitoring instrumentation. The long-term program will develop technology for support of future space vehicles, payloads, and launch systems by advancing the state of the art in launch vehicle and payload processing electronics and instrumentation to reduce costs and enhance safety.

Automation and robotics is yet another aspect of Kennedy Space Center study and application. Payload processing operations present both operational issues and problems. They also provide a forum to take technologies out of the laboratory and make them work reliably in the field. Field testing is critical to the successful insertion of robotic technologies for both NASA and commercial applications. Robotic and automated technology can be applied to a number of ground processing tasks. Kennedy Space Center is working with other NASA centers to develop and apply obstacle-avoidance sensors and systems, multidegree-of-freedom robotic devices, intelligent control systems, inspection sensors and systems, and advanced software technologies for health monitoring and diagnosis.

Computer consoles used at Kennedy Space Centers Landing Aids Laboratory
The Landing Aids Laboratory personnel at Kennedy Space Center has completed the development of a VXI bus-based miniaturized next-generation Microwave Scanning Beam Landing System (MSBLS) Flight Inspection and Certification System. The Space Shuttle uses the MSBLS to provide precision guidance during the last stages of shuttle missions prior to landing.


Life support for long-term human habitation is the research subject for the Kennedy Space Center's Life Sciences Technology program. Work is underway on the Advanced Life Support (ALS) program. The ALS Breadboard Project is performing biogenerative research and technology development on topics from biomass crop production improvement to resource recovery. The biomass production experiments deal with crop lighting and nutrient-delivery hardware systems, the effects of environmental conditions (i.e., carbon dioxide and temperature) on plants growing in closed chambers, and microgravity effects on plant growth and development. Resource recovery experiments focus on the use of microbiological processes to recycle waste material such as inedible crop biomass into carbon dioxide and mineral forms that can be used by crops and to convert these inedibles into food, thus more efficiently using the limited resources in space, energy, volume, mass, and crew time.

If humankind is literally to reach beyond Earth orbit, ALS research is helping move forward the day when advanced bioregenerative life support systems support crews of astronauts, outward bound to 21st century destinations of asteroids, the Moon and Mars, and ultimately the stars.


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