Kennedy Space Center to become Moonport by 2008

NASA will start converting Kennedy Space Center into a moonport in the spring of 2008, and a new rocket that will launch U.S. astronauts on lunar missions will be test-flown at a modified shuttle pad a year later.

What’s more, the agency on Thursday plans to announce the winner of a multibillion-dollar contract to build a new Apollo-style space capsule that astronauts will fly to the moon.

The bidders: Lockheed Martin and a Northrup Grumman-Boeing team.

“We’re in the final stages now of making that contractor selection,” NASA program manager Skip Hatfield said. “And we’re looking forward to getting that contractor on board with us as we continue our journey on into exploration.”

Dubbed Orion, the new space capsule will carry crews of six to the International Space Station and four on missions to the moon and Mars.

The crew transport will replaceĀ  ASA’s space shuttle orbiter.

Its first piloted mission now is scheduled for September 2014 — four years after the agency retires its shuttle fleet.

NASA also is building two new launch systems — Ares 1 and Ares 5.

A more powerful version of the shuttle’s solid rocket booster with a single-engine upper stage, the Ares 1 will launch the Orion space capsules and their astronaut crews.

The Ares 5 will be a monster rocket in the same class as the Saturn 5 rockets that NASA employed for the Apollo moon landing missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The huge booster will be used to launch lunar landers and Earth departure stages, which then will link up in low Earth orbit with the Orion capsules for moon trips.

NASA aims to start modifying KSC’s launch pad 39B for the Ares 1 rocket in the spring of 2008, NASA program manager Jeff Hanley said.

An initial Ares 1 test flight is scheduled for April 2009. The rocket will consist of a four-segment shuttle solid rocket booster with an inert fifth segment, a dummy upper stage and ballast in place of an Orion spacecraft.

In the event of a failure, NASA will have the option of launching a second test flight six months later

An Ares 1 test flight with a five-segment solid rocket booster and an upper stage powered by a single J-2 engine is scheduled for July 2012.

Two launches also are planned to test the Orion spacecraft without astronauts on board. Another Ares-1 would be launched on a test-flight with a cargo-carrying version of the capsule.

Those flights are scheduled between late 2012 and the fall of 2014.

NASA has yet to pick a pad for the mammoth Ares 5 rocket, but Hanley said the agency’s intent now is to use complex 39.

The options in that case would include building a new pad, modifying pad 39A or converting pad 39B into a dual use facility that could accommodate both the Ares 1 and Ares 5. A decision is expected in the new few months.

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