Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39

Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39
Launch Complex 39
VAB Aerial - GPN-2000-000869.jpg
An aerial view of Launch Complex 39
Launch site Kennedy Space Center
Location 28°36′30.23″N 80°36′15.64″W / 28.6083972°N 80.6043444°W / 28.6083972; -80.6043444
Short name LC-39
Operator United States NASA
Total launches 151 (13 Saturn V, 4 Saturn 1B, 135 Shuttle, 1 Ares 1-X)
Launch pad(s) 2
Minimum / maximum
orbital inclination
28° - 62°
LC-39A launch history
Status Inactive
Launches 92 (12 Saturn V, 80 Shuttle)
First launch November 9, 1967
Saturn V / Apollo 4
Last launch July 8, 2011
Space Shuttle Atlantis / STS-135
Associated rockets Saturn V
Saturn INT-21
Space Shuttle
LC-39B launch history
Status Inactive
Launches 59 (1 Saturn V, 1 Ares I-X, 4 Saturn 1B, 53 Shuttle)
First launch May 18, 1969
Saturn V / Apollo 10
Last launch October 28, 2009
Ares I-X
Associated rockets Saturn V
Saturn IB
Space Shuttle
Ares I-X
The doors to the White Room, which provide entry to the space shuttle crew compartment, are seen here at the end of the access arm walkway.

Launch Complex 39 (LC-39) is a rocket launch site at the John F. Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island in Florida, USA. The site and its collection of facilities were originally built for the Apollo program, and later modified to support Space Shuttle operations. NASA began modifying LC-39 in 2007 to accommodate Project Constellation.[1][2] Launches from LC-39 are supervised from the Launch Control Center, located 3 miles (4.8 km) from the launch pads. LC-39 is one of several launch sites that share the Eastern Test Range.

Launch Complex 39 is composed of the two launch pads, the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), the Crawlerway (the route used by crawler-transporters to carry Mobile Launcher Platforms between the VAB and the pads), the Orbiter Processing Facility buildings, the Launch Control Center (which contains the firing rooms), a news facility (famous for the iconic countdown clock seen in television coverage and photos), and various logistical and operational support buildings.[3]



Early years

The first development on this site was in 1890 when a few wealthy graduates of Harvard University purchased the 18,000 acres (73 km2) property for one dollar per acre. Very nearly on the site of 39A they constructed a three-story mahogany clubhouse with twenty rooms for members and guests. The club featured a large dining room, wine cellar, trophy room and plenty of storage for arms and ammunition. Atop the lodge, there was a spectacular view of both ocean and wildlife that flocked to the surrounding marsh. During the 1920s, P. E. Studebaker, son of the automobile magnate, built a small casino at De Soto Beach eight miles (13 km) north of the Canaveral lighthouse to lure buyers to the site where plans were being developed for an elaborate resort city, complete with water, sewer, sidewalks, street lights, and landscaping. Also, the Playa Linda Development Corporation sought buyers to their 'proposed' development of 8,000 lots of 0.25 acres (1,000 m2) advertised as the "greatest beach development north of Miami."[4] Prior to the construction of the complex, State Road A1A ran east of the complex. Along this rural ocean road was United States Coast Guard Station Chester Shoals built in 1885.

In 1948, the Navy transferred the former Banana River Naval Air Station located south of the Cape Canaveral, to the Air Force for use in testing captured German V-2 rockets.[5] The site's location on the East Florida coast was ideal for this purpose in that launches would be over the ocean, away from populated areas. This site became the Joint Long Range Proving Ground in 1949, and was renamed Patrick Air Force Base in 1950. The Air Force annexed part of Cape Canaveral to the North in 1951, forming the Air Force Missile Test Center, the future Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). Missile and rocketry testing and development would take place here through the 1950s.[6]

NASA arrives

Apollo era walkway and white room, on display at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

NASA was founded in 1958, and the early NASA missions, including the Mercury and Gemini programs, were launched from pads on CCAFS.[7]

In 1961, President Kennedy announced the goal of landing a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. The announcement of the lunar program led to an expansion of operations from the Cape to the adjacent Merritt Island.[8] NASA began acquisition of land in 1962, taking title to 131 square miles (340 km2) by outright purchase and negotiating with the state of Florida for an additional 87 square miles (230 km2). In July 1962, the site was named the Launch Operations Center. At the time, the highest numbered launch pad on CCAFS was Launch Complex 37; when the lunar launch complex was designed, it was designated as Launch Complex 39.

Initial design

Launch Complex Plan - 1963
Warning lamps showing the planned 3 pads including the unbuilt Pad C

The initial design of the launch complex contained five pads that were evenly spaced 8,700 feet (2,700 m) apart to avoid damage in the event of a pad explosion. Three were scheduled for construction (A-C, to the southeast) and two reserved for future use (D and E, west and north). The numbering of the pads at the time was from north to south, with the northernmost being LC39A, and the southern being LC39C. LC39A was never built, and LC39C became LC39A in 1963. With today's numbering, LC39C would be north of LC39B. LC39D would have been due west of LC39C. LC39E would have been due north of the mid-distance between LC39C and LC39D, with LC39E forming the top of a triangle, and equidistant from LC39C and LC39D. The crawler way was built with the additional pads in mind. This is the reason the crawler way turns as it heads to Pad B; continuing straight from that turn would have led to the additional pads.[9] The accompanying map also shows the unbuilt Nuclear Assembly Building (NAB).

Early launches

The pads were first used for launches of the Saturn V rocket for the Project Apollo moon missions, and later for Saturn 1B rockets for the Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz programs. The original structure of the pads was remodeled for the needs of the Space Shuttle, starting with LC-39A after the last Saturn V launch, which carried Skylab in 1973, and in 1977 for LC-39B after the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975. During the Apollo era these were just launchpads - the umbilical/service towers were attached to the launch platform—the only modification made was the so-called "milkstool" which allowed the Saturn IB rocket (for all manned Skylab missions, the unlaunched Skylab Rescue, and ASTP) to use the Saturn V launch tower. For the Shuttle, the pad has a fixed tower (left over from the Apollo-Saturn era) and a rotating service platform, used to protect the Shuttle Orbiter and to install vertically-handled payloads into the payload bay.[1][10] Current NASA plans for Project Constellation calls for the reverting of both pads to a state similar to that of the Apollo Program, but with the installation of lightning masts to deflect lightning strikes away from the Ares I and Ares V rockets.

The first use of LC39 came in 1967 with the first Saturn V launch, carrying the unmanned Apollo 4 spacecraft. The second unmanned launch, Apollo 6, also used LC39A. With the exception of Apollo 10, which used LC39B (due to the "all-up" testing resulting in a 2-month turnaround period), all manned Apollo-Saturn V launches, commencing with Apollo 8, used LC39A. After the launch of Skylab in 1973, using the Saturn INT-21 rocket (a two-stage variation of the Saturn V rocket originally intended for the Apollo Applications Program), LC39A was reconfigured for the Space Shuttle and was used for the first Shuttle launch (STS-1), using the Columbia in 1981.[11] After Apollo 10, LC39B was kept as a backup launch facility in the case of the destruction of LC39A, but saw service for all three Skylab missions, the ASTP flight, as well as un-launched Skylab Rescue flight. After ASTP, LC39B underwent the same reconfiguration as LC39A, but due to necessary modifications (mainly to allow the facility to service a modified Centaur-G upper stage), along with budgetary restraints, it was not ready until 1986, and the first Shuttle launch to use it was the ill-fated STS-51-L flight – the Challenger disaster.

During the launch of Discovery on STS-124 on May 31, 2008, the pad at LC39A suffered extensive damage, in particular to the concrete trench used to deflect the SRB's flames.[12] The subsequent mishap investigation found that the damage was the result of carbonation of epoxy and corrosion of steel anchors which held the refractory bricks in the trench in place. These had been exacerbated by the fact that hydrochloric acid is an exhaust by-product of the solid rocket boosters.[13]

Space shuttle usage

Launch of the final Saturn IB rocket from LC-39B on July 15, 1975 carrying the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project Command Module into orbit
Space Shuttle Columbia in full launch configuration at Launch Pad 39A, in preparation for STS-1

Integration of launch vehicle stack

The thrust to allow the Space Shuttle to achieve orbit is provided by a combination of the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) and the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs). The SRBs use solid propellant, hence their name. The SSMEs use a combination of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen (LOX) from the External Tank (ET), as the Shuttle does not have fuel tanks for the SSMEs. Months before launch, the three main components of the "stack" are brought together in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). The components are placed on a Mobile Launcher Platform (MLP). The SRBs arrive in segments via rail car from their manufacturing facility in Utah, the external tank arrives from its manufacturing facility in Louisiana by barge and the Space Shuttle waits in the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF). The SRBs are first stacked, and then the external tank is mounted between them. Then using a massive crane, the Shuttle is lowered and connected to the external tank.

Transportation to the pad

When the stack integration is completed, it is moved by the Crawler-Transporter the 3–4 miles (5-6 kilometers) to the pad over eight hours. At the pad, the MLP is lowered onto several pedestals, and the Crawler-Transporter moves off the pad to a staging area a safe distance away.

Payload to be installed at the launch pad is independently transported in a payload transportation canister, and then installed vertically at the Payload Changeout Room. Otherwise, payload would have already been pre-installed at the Orbiter Processing Facility, and transported within the shuttle orbiter's cargo bay.

Launch towers

This fish-eye view shows the Sound Suppression Water System flooding the launcher platform as Endeavour lifts off Launch Pad 39A on mission STS-118 August 8, 2007.

Each pad contains a two-piece access tower system, the Fixed Service Structure (FSS) and the Rotating Service Structure (RSS). The FSS permits access to the Shuttle via a retractable arm and a "beanie cap" to capture vented LOX from the external tank. The RSS contains the Payload Changeout Room, which offers "clean" access to the orbiter's payload bay, protection from the elements and can protect the shuttle in winds up to 60 knots (110 km/h). Also at each pad are large cryogenic tanks that store the fuel liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen (LOX) fuel for the SSMEs. The highly explosive nature of these chemicals requires numerous safety measures at the Launch Complex. NASA calculates the minimum safe distance for a fully fueled Space Shuttle stack is three miles (5 km) for personnel, and 8,700 feet (2,700 m) between pads. Before tanking operations begin and during launch, non-essential personnel are excluded from the danger area. The Launch Control Center and Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) are almost exactly three miles (5 km) away.

39B does not have any structures while it is being modified for Ares 1.

Swing arms

[14] Swing arms are retractable mechanical systems that extend from the launch tower to the Space Shuttle. They provide access to the vehicle for people, wiring and plumbing while the vehicle is on the launch pad. They retract by swinging away before launch.

People (technicians, engineers, and astronauts) use the Orbiter Access Arm to access the crew module. At the end of the arm, the white room provides an environmentally controlled and protected area for astronauts and their equipment to enter the orbiter.

The Gaseous Oxygen Vent Arm positions a hood, often called the "Beanie Cap" over the top of the External Tank (ET) nose cone during fueling. Heated gaseous nitrogen is used there to remove the extremely cold gaseous oxygen that normally vents out of the external tank. This prevents the formation of ice that could fall and damage the shuttle.

The Hydrogen Vent Line Access Arm mates the External Tank (ET) Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate (GUCP) to the launch pad hydrogen vent line. The GUCP provides support for plumbing and cables, called umbilicals that transfer fluids, gases, and electrical signals between two pieces of equipment. While the ET is being fueled, hazardous gas is vented from a internal hydrogen tank through the GUCP, out a vent line to a flare stack where it is burned off at a safe distance. Sensors at the GUCP measure gas level. The GUPC was redesigned after leaks created scrubs of STS-127 and were also detected during attempts to launch STS-119 and STS-133.[15] The GUCP releases from the ET at launch and falls away with a curtain of water sprayed across it for protection from flames.

Sound suppression water system

An elevated water tank near each pad provides sound buffering protection for the launching spacecraft. Part of the Sound Suppression Water System (SSWS), the 290-foot (88 m) water towers store 300,000 gallons (1.1 Megalitres) of water, which is released just before engine ignition.[16] The water discharged onto the launch platform during lift-off muffles the intense sound waves produced by the Shuttle engines. Due to heating of the water, a large quantity of steam is produced during launch.

Emergency pad evacuation

In an emergency, the launch complex uses a slidewire escape basket system for quick evacuation. Assisted by members of the closeout team, the crew would leave the shuttle and ride an emergency basket to the ground at speeds reaching up to 55 miles per hour (89 km/h).[17] From there, the crew take shelter in a bunker. A modified M113 Armored Personnel Carrier can carry injured astronauts away from the complex to safety.[18]

Future use

M113 armored personnel carriers parked near LC-39
The aerial view of both launch pads at the complex, 39A (foreground) and 39B

With the retirement of the Shuttle in 2011,[19] the future of LC-39 is undetermined following cancellation of Project Constellation in 2010.


NASA deactivated LC-39B on January 1, 2007, thus making the nighttime launch of STS-116, which occurred on December 9, 2006 its last shuttle mission.

Between the STS-116 launch and the STS-125 mission, when the Endeavour was placed on LC-39B in the event NASA needed to launch the STS-400 rescue mission, contractors installed three new 600 ft. tall lightning mast towers similar to those used on the Atlas V and Delta IV launch pads at nearby Cape Canaveral. At the same time they removed the existing single lightning mast and crane assembly. (The crane assembly dated back to the Apollo program.) With the completion of STS-125, contractors converted LC-39B for the successful test flight of Ares I-X on October 28, 2009.

Since the Ares I-X flight, NASA is proceeding with plans to strip LC-39B of its FSS, returning the location to an Apollo-like "clean pad" design for the first time since 1977. This approach will make the pad available to multiple types of vehicles which arrive at the pad with service structures on the mobile launcher platform as opposed to custom structures on the pad.[20] The LH2, LOX, and water tanks (used for the sound suppression system) are the only structures left from the Shuttle era.[21][22]

As of February 2011, NASA is offering the pad and facilities to private companies to fly missions for the commercial space market.[23]


Launch complex 39A

Just like the first 24 shuttle flights, LC-39A was supporting the remaining manifested Shuttle flights, starting with STS-117 until the retirement of the fleet. Its future use remains undetermined following cancellation of Project Constellation.

See also


  1. ^ a b NASA (1993). "Launch Complex 39-A & 39-B". National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Retrieved September 30, 2007. 
  2. ^ NASA (2000). "Launch Complex 39". NASA. Retrieved September 30, 2007. 
  3. ^ "KSC Facilities". NASA. Retrieved 2009-07-06. 
  4. ^ Eriksen, Brevard County, Florida: A Short History to 1955
  5. ^ "EVOLUTION OF THE 45TH SPACE WING". US Air Force. Retrieved 2009-07-06. 
  7. ^ "Cape Canaveral LC5". Retrieved 2009-07-06. 
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ NASA (2006). "Feature: Launch Complex 39". NASA. Retrieved September 30, 2007. 
  11. ^ NASA (2006). "Shuttle-Era Pad Modifications". NASA. Retrieved September 30, 2007. 
  12. ^ -- NASA Eyes Launch Pad Damage for Next Shuttle Flight
  13. ^ Lilley, Steve K. (August 2010). "Hit the Bricks". System Failure Case Studies (NASA) 4 (8): 1–4. Retrieved July 20, 2011. 
  14. ^ "Swing Arm Engineer". NASA. 
  15. ^ "GUCP troubleshooting continues as MMT push for launch on June 17". NASA Spaceflight. 
  16. ^ "Sound Suppression System". Retrieved 2007-10-22. 
  17. ^ " – NASA Conducts Shuttle Astronaut Rescue Drill". Retrieved 2007-10-22. 
  18. ^ "NASA Field Journal by Greg Lohning". Retrieved 2008-11-01. 
  19. ^ NASA: Lost in Space, Business Week, 2010-10-28, accessed 2010-10-31.
  20. ^ "Historic space shuttle pad soon to be scrap". USA Today. 23 March 2011. 
  21. ^ NASA (2006). "Sound Suppression System". NASA. Retrieved September 30, 2007. 
  22. ^ "STS-127 Rollaround starts". Space Flight Now. 
  23. ^ Dean, James (2011-02-06 quote=As the shuttle program nears retirement, KSC officials are evaluating whether other facilities that supported three decades of shuttle flights will transition to serve new vehicles or be discarded. The center is offering use of its launch pads, runway, Vehicle Assembly Building high bays, hangars and firing rooms to private companies expected to play a bigger role in NASA missions and a growing commercial space market.). "Up for grabs? Private companies eye KSC facilities". Florida Today. Retrieved 2011-02-06. 

External links

Coordinates: 28°36′30″N 80°36′16″W / 28.608397°N 80.604345°W / 28.608397; -80.604345

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