– A new astronaut walkway added by SpaceX to a historic NASA launch pad looks distinctly different from the heritage hardware it replaces, but it continues 50-year-old legacy crew members on their ride to space.
"Crew access arm installed at Launch Complex 39A in Florida will act as a bridge for NASA astronauts to join Crew Dragon," SpaceX wrote on its social media accounts on Friday (August 24), subtitled a photo of the sleek new driveway.
The 85 foot long (25-meter) arm was delivered to the Kennedy Space Center on August 15 at the foot of the Pad 39A Fixed Service Structure (FSS). Five days later he was hoisted with a crane of 265 feet (80 m) above sea level, where it was mounted on the tower of the space shuttle era.
The footbridge was 70 feet (21 m) higher than the orbiter access arm that extended for 30 years from the FSS. The higher perch aligns the access arm with the Dragon when placed on top of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Like Dragon and Falcon, the SpaceX crew is usually white in color, so that it differs from the metallic gray FSS, especially against the blue sky and the ocean behind it. The new walkway is also enclosed, with windows running along the walls instead of the open-air configuration of the previous arm or tower next to it.
The plan for the future is to place a cladding on the FSS, which encloses the tower, because it "looks different", wrote SpaceX CEO Elon Musk Friday on Twitter.
The new crew access arm will be used for the first time to support a non-screwed test flight of the Crew Dragon, which SpaceX has targeted for November. If everything goes according to plan, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will be the first to use the arm to board a dragon for a demo mission to the International Space Station scheduled for April 2019.
The SpaceX access arm is the second commercial crew transport that has recently been added to a launch pad.
In August 2016, United Launch Alliance (ULA) launched the astronaut walkway for Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft above Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The 50-foot (15-meter) arm was installed 172 feet (52 m) above the ground, where it will bridge the opening between the portal tower of the path and the Starliner on top of a ULA Atlas V rocket.
At the spacecraft, the end of the ULA open-air walkway is a "white room", a closed, environmentally controlled cabin that serves as the interface to the Starliner crew cabin. The white room that was mounted on the arm two years ago has recently been replaced to improve the possibilities for Boeing & # 39; s Starliner & # 39; and to ensure flexibility for future commercial launch partners & # 39 ;, said a ULA spokesperson collectSPACE.
The height of what ULA now calls the "Common White Room" is increased by 4 feet (1.2 meters). Most of the room has the same equipment and functionality of the previous model, but some locations for storage and communication connections have been modified to improve access based on lessons learned with the original configuration.
The Common White Room, with an American flag and ULA logo on the outside, was hoisted into place with a crane on 9 May. This was in place and configured for a first Integrated System Verification Test (ISVT) in June.
Boeing is targeting its first Starliner uncrewed orbital flight test by the end of 2018 or early 2019. A manned test flight with Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson and NASA astronauts Eric Boe and Nicole Mann on board is scheduled for mid-2019.
Although the use of white rooms dates back to NASA's Gemini program in the early 1960s, the crew's access arm was not introduced to the Apollo program until 1967. The original walkway spanned the opening between the support portal on Complex 34 and the spacecraft Apollo on top of a Saturn IB rocket.
The first crew access arm of Pad 39A was placed at 320 feet (100 m) above the surface of the launch pad and bridged the distance between the launch of the umbilical tower and the Apollo operating module on top of the towering Saturn V rocket. The same configuration was used on Pad 39B in 1969, where NASA is now launching crews on the Space Launch System with a new Orion arm for crew access.