VIDEO: Upgrades To KSC Pad 39B Flame Trench Will Support Space Launch System Rocket

By  //  May 1, 2016

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making significant upgrades to the historic pad

ABOVE VIDEO: In the Launch Pad 39B north flame trench at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, construction workers prepare the concrete walls for new heat-resistant bricks. The Pad B flame trench is being refurbished to support the launch of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket. (NASA video)

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft will roar into deep space from Launch Pad 39B at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Before the most powerful rocket in the world takes flight, the Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) Program continues making significant upgrades and modifications to the historic pad to accommodate the new rocket’s shape and size.

Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) will be the first of many missions of SLS and Orion as the agency prepares for its journey to Mars.

In June 2015, NASA awarded a contract to J.P. Donovan Construction of Rockledge, Florida, to upgrade the flame trench and provide a new flame deflector.

This system is critical to safely containing the plume exhaust from the massive rocket during launch. Construction workers have been busy, removing old adhesive material and preparing the walls for brick installation on the north side of the trench.

In the Launch Pad 39B north flame trench at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, construction workers with J.P. Donovan of Rockledge, Florida, prepare the concrete walls for new heat-resistant bricks on April 14. (NASA.gov image)

In the Launch Pad 39B north flame trench at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, construction workers with J.P. Donovan of Rockledge, Florida, prepare the concrete walls for new heat-resistant bricks on April 14. (NASA.gov image)

The north side of the flame trench is about 571 feet long, 58 feet wide and 42 feet high. The new flame deflector will divert the rocket’s exhaust, pressure and heat to the north.

To determine where the most pressure and heat will occur during launch, a team of engineers from Kennedy and NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, used computational fluid dynamics to locate the areas of significant temperature and pressure. In these areas of concern, adhesive anchors are being drilled into the walls at intervals to hold the metal plates that will reinforce the brick system before the mortar and bricks are added.

Regina Spellman

Regina Spellman

“It’s very exciting to see this project making such great progress. The flame trench and flame deflector are the last large pieces of the puzzle required at the pad prior to integrating testing with the mobile launcher and before launch,” said Regina Spellman, GSDO launch pad senior project manager. 

Construction workers now are preparing the north side of the flame trench to withstand temperatures of up to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit at launch of the rocket’s engines and solid rocket boosters. Approximately 100,000 heat-resistant bricks, in three different sizes, will be secured to the walls using bonding mortar in combination with the adhesive anchors.

“The contractor is performing quality checks as the work progresses,” said Lori Jones, an engineer and project manager for Construction of Facilities for the pad flame trench and deflector.

Because all of the rocket’s flame and energy at liftoff will be diverted to the north side of the flame trench, the south side of the flame trench will not be covered in brick, but instead, will be repaired and remain a concrete surface.

The new flame deflector will be positioned about six feet south of the old flame deflector’s position. The north side of the deflector will be protected by a NASA standard coating. The south side of the deflector will not be slanted and will have no lining. The new design will provide easier access for inspection, maintenance and repair.

The two side flame deflectors, repurposed from space shuttle launches, will be refurbished and reinstalled at pad level on either side of the flame trench to help reduce damage to the pad and SLS rocket.

A construction worker with J.P. Donovan of Rockledge, Florida, installs new heat-resistant bricks April 14 around the ignition over pressure/sound suppression system water pipe on the north side of the flame trench at Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (NASA.gov image)

A construction worker with J.P. Donovan of Rockledge, Florida, installs new heat-resistant bricks April 14 around the ignition over pressure/sound suppression system water pipe on the north side of the flame trench at Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (NASA.gov image)

To accommodate the new configuration, an access door between the west catacomb and the main deflector was moved to a new location. A new opening was cut into the east side of the flame trench wall to relocate the ignition over pressure/sound suppression system’s water pipes that will feed the deflector’s crest spray system.

VIDEO: Orion Crew Module For Exploration Mission-1 Lifted To Test Stand At KSCRelated Story:
VIDEO: Orion Crew Module For Exploration Mission-1 Lifted To Test Stand At KSC

The flame trench modifications currently are scheduled to be completed by March 2017. Additional work will begin soon to reinforce the catacomb below the pad surface so it can handle the load of the SLS rocket.

A previously completed project included removal of all of the crawler track panels on the pad’s surface, repair of the surface beneath the panels and the catacomb roof below, and reinstallation of existing panels or, depending on their condition, installation of some new track panels.

“The flame trench has withstood so many historical launches, and we are giving it new life to withstand many more.” Spellman said.

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