NASA is looking into expanded use of the space shuttle's huge runway at the John F. Kennedy Space Center. Potential users of the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) could include other government agencies and their contractors, university research and technology programs, as well as commercial groups.\
The NASA action is being spurred in anticipation of the closure of space shuttle operations in 2010. Moreover, the space agency is keen on opening its doors to help the blossoming commercial space flight industry.
The SLF is a single, 15,000-foot concrete runway located in Complex 39 at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). It is oriented to the southeast and northwest with runways designated as 15 and 33 on the approach compass. Air traffic control is managed by a Military Radar Unit from a newly constructed control tower built to Federal Aviation Administration standards.
NASA officials have indicated willingness to consider improvements to the SLF, but at user's expense. Space agency use of the landing facility would continue to take precedence over any and all other prospective uses throughout the remaining operational life of the space shuttle program and beyond.
According to a newly issued KSC request for information, NASA is investigating the prospects of these and other uses for the landing strip:
- Research and technology demonstration flights of piloted and unpiloted aircraft and spaceflight vehicles conducted by other NASA organizations, other government agencies, their contractors, universities, and commercial manufacturers or operators.
- Parabolic research and demonstration flights supporting microgravity experiments and microgravity flights serving as a precursor to commercial human space flight.
- Commercial space flight research, technology demonstration, and logistical support, including but not limited to delivery of commercial spacecraft and flight hardware, captive test flights, and aircraft-based deployment of piloted and unpiloted suborbital and orbital launchers and spacecraft.
- Other research and technology demonstrations or experiments that can benefit from the characteristics of the Shuttle Landing Facility and KSC.
Long-range exploration program
"With the nation embarking on a
long-range exploration program to return to the Moon, and proceed to Mars and
beyond, it is not possible at this time to predict
the agency's requirements for support and mission aircraft and spacecraft that may require use of the SLF," a NASA request for information notes.
"Accordingly, NASA does not expect to relinquish control or ownership of the SLF at any time in the foreseeable future. The agency may, however, explore the potential for out-leasing the SLF to an airfield operator at some future point to increase the efficiency of its operation for the benefit of an expanded set of users. NASA does not intend to pursue that option for the immediate near term but wishes to alert potential users that it may in the future," the NASA document adds.
Under consideration by NASA is holding a workshop at the Kennedy Space Center, to further flesh out ideas for using the Shuttle Landing Facility.
"This initiative to identify potential non-NASA uses for the Shuttle Landing Facility responds to the U.S. Space Transportation Policy issued early this year and the President's Management Agenda," said James Ball, NASA Spaceport Development Manager at the Kennedy Space Center.
Also, the U.S. Congress has expressed interest that NASA "be supportive of the emerging commercial space flight industry and good managers of our institutional resources," Ball told SPACE.com.
"It's a good example of where we are going...to look for opportunities to expand access to our property and facilities beyond NASA's own program requirements in ways that are compatible with our agency mission and roles," Ball said.
"While we must not compromise our capacity to fully support the nation's vision for space exploration, there will be opportunities, like we hope to develop with the SLF, for enabling access to KSC capabilities by users from all sectors," Ball concluded.