Mighty Mobile Rocket Launcher: Rolling NASA Platform Ready for Upgrade (Photo)

NASA's Mobile Launch Platform
An early morning sunrise partially illuminates the Mobile Launcher, or ML, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Feb. 5, 2014. (Image credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky)

NASA's 21st-century mobile rocket launch platform stands silhouetted by the morning sun in this striking view taken at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida this month.

Railroad tracks loom large in the foreground in the Mobile Launcher photo, which was taken Feb. 5 by NASA photographer Ben Smegelsky.

The Mobile Launcher, or ML, stands 355 feet (108 meters) tall and weighs 6.7 million lbs. (3 million kilograms). In 2013, the company J.P. Donovan Construction Inc. of Rockledge, Fla., won a contract from NASA to modify the ML structure to support future missions. [See the View from Atop NASA's Mobile Launch (Gallery)]

The massive ML structure represents one of the key elements of ground support equipment being upgraded by the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program office at the Kennedy Space Center. The launcher is designed to support the assembly, testing, check out and servicing of NASA's new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), as well as transferring it to the pad and providing a launch platform for it.

The ML will carry the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft to Launch Pad 39B for its first mission, Exploration Mission 1, in 2017. NASA spent two years and $500 million building the ML structure, which was originally slated to support the agency's Ares 1 rocket, a booster that formed part of the now-canceled Constellation program for moon exploration. Construction was completed in August 2010.

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Tom Chao
Tom Chao has contributed to SPACE.com as a producer and writer since 2000. As a writer and editor, he has worked for the Voyager Company, Time Inc. New Media, HarperCollins and Worth Publishers. He has a bachelor’s degree in Cinema Production from the University of Southern California, and a master’s degree from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Tom on Google+.