In what could be a boon for the aerospace industry on Florida’s Space Coast, this week, Boeing announced that it is expanding its operations at Kennedy Space Center in support of the Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle program. Boeing plans to convert an old space shuttle facility, Orbiter Processing Facility #1 (OPF-1) for the OTV.OPF-1 will be refurbished into a modern processing facility that can support the launch, land and re-launch the OTV, a 29-foot long “mini” shuttle that launches on an Atlas V rocket but returns to Earth to land on a conventional runway.
“Boeing’s choice to further expand its presence on Florida’s Space Coast validates the state’s position as a leader in aerospace. The company’s investment and the jobs created add to this extensive sector,” said Gray Swoope, president & CEO of Enterprise Florida. “We are proud to have Boeing as a corporate leader in the state and we look forward to our Florida workforce being a part of the company’s future success.”
The expansion is projected to bring a number of jobs to Florida, although neither the Air Force nor Boeing would confirm plans beyond the utilization of OPF-1.
“This project has been a great example of state and local agencies working together to create an optimal toolbox of capabilities for the customer,” said Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida, the state of Florida’s spaceport authority and aerospace development agency. “The commercialization of OPF-1 through Space Florida’s project funding was a critical factor in attracting Boeing to Florida. We are pleased to see our partnership with the Florida Department of Transportation and local communities through spaceport projects contributing significantly to the continued growth of Florida’s aerospace economy.”
The OTV has flown three times, each launching from Cape Canaveral. The first two missions landed on a runway in California. The third, launched in December 2012, is still in orbit. The Air Force has mentioned the possibility of landing the current mission, and future OTV flights, at the former Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center. This week’s announcement seems to indicate that’s the direction the Air Force will eventually take.
“The X-37B features many elements that mark a first in space use. The X-37B is one-fourth the size of the Space Shuttle, and relies upon the same family of lifting body design. It also features a similar landing profile. The vehicle was built using lighter composite structures, rather than traditional aluminum. A new generation of high-temperature wing leading-edge tiles will also debut on the X-37B. These toughened uni-piece fibrous refractory oxidation-resistant ceramic (TUFROC) tiles replace the carbon carbon wing leading edge segments on the Space Shuttle. The X-37B will also use toughened uni-piece fibrous insulation (TUFI) impregnated silica tiles, which are significantly more durable than the first generation tiles used by the Space Shuttle.”
Political and economic leaders on the Space Coast welcomed the news.
“This is a great opportunity to utilize Brevard County’s talented workforce in support of our nation’s next-generation space vehicle research platform,” said Mary Bolin Lewis, chairman, Brevard County Board of County Commissioners.
“We have seen the impact and visionary thinking Boeing and the Air Force bring to the Space Coast and we are pleased to work with NASA, Space Florida, Enterprise Florida and other key state and community partners to further diversify our space industry,” said Lynda Weatherman, president and CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast. “We have long touted how attractive our unique infrastructure and workforce are to both the private sector and the military, and we are excited that this project capitalizes on both of those strengths while laying the groundwork for future growth.”
Article by Matthew Travis
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