The handover of Mobile Launcher Platform-1 from NASA’s Space Shuttle Program to the Constellation Program at a Kennedy Space Center ceremony on March 25 is the next step in returning people to the moon and exploring beyond.
The 4,625-ton, two-story steel structure will be modified for the first test flight of NASA’s next-generation spacecraft and launch vehicle system. The Ares I-X rocket test, which is targeted for launch this summer, will provide important data for developing Ares I and support a critical design review next year.
“It truly is a historic day to be turning over a major piece of hardware from one manned spaceflight program to another,” Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach said. “It really doesn’t happen very often.”
MLP-1 holds special memories for Leinbach, considering it has taken part in 51 shuttle launches — more than NASA’s other two launch platforms. Its rich history also includes three Apollo launches, including Apollo 11 that put humans on the moon; and three Skylab missions, making it the first mobile launcher platform to support space station, Apollo, space shuttle and Constellation programs.
The launch platform had just been used on March 15 to launch space shuttle Discovery on its STS-119 mission to the International Space Station.
After Leinbach shared some history of the launcher, the banner that read “Go Discovery” was changed to “Go Ares I-X” to reflect its new mission with the Constellation Program.
“We are excited to have this mobile launcher platform turned over to us,” said Pepper Phillips, director of the Constellation Project office. “This is a real enabler for us.”
Constructed in 1964, Mobile Launcher-1, or ML-1, originally was used for transporting and launching the Saturn V rocket for Apollo lunar landing missions. For Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz, ML-1 was modified with a “milkstool” pedestal that allowed the shorter Saturn IB rocket to use the Saturn V tower and service arms. ML-1 was modified in 1975 for use in shuttle operations and was renamed Mobile Launcher Platform-1, or MLP-1.
In support of the transition, United Space Alliance, Lockheed Martin and NASA collaborated to simplify design plans and capitalize on previous shuttle upgrades and existing infrastructure.
The first modifications for MLP-1 began in May 2008, with the installation of 20 water bag cleats to the platform’s right-hand solid rocket booster hole, which will prevent any possible acoustic damage to the rocket during liftoff.
In December 2008, the ground control system hardware, which controls the ground equipment for checkout and launch, was installed onto MLP-1.
Next, MLP-1 will undergo ground control hardware testing at Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39B. Upon completion, the platform will move to the Vehicle Assembly Building’s High Bay 3 to begin its stacking with Ares I-X.
During the handover ceremony, Brett Raulerson, United Space Alliance manager for MLP operations, received a commemorative plaque that will be hung in the MLP shop. An identical plaque also will hang in Kennedy’s Launch Control Center.
“This MLP is the workhorse of the fleet,” Raulerson said. “It’s exciting to know it’s going to support three (space) programs before it is finished.”
Following the Ares I-X flight test, MLP-1 will be disassembled.
By Frank Ochoa-Gonzales