NASA began the Vision Spaceport Project at Kennedy Space Center
to help create reliable and affordable access to space. The project
is a five-year partnership formed to evaluate concepts for a new
spaceport facility. It combines the expertise and resources of IST,
NASA (Kennedy Space Center and Ames Research Center) and industry
(Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Command and Control Technologies, Science
Applications International Corporation and Quantum Technologies
Kennedy Space Center formed this Spaceport Synergy Team,
operating under an innovative Joint Sponsored Research Agreement, to
develop revolutionary concepts for spaceport architectures and space
launch operations capability needed for affordable space
Coming up with real-world, bottom line figures for a future
spaceport whose space vehicles do not yet exist is no small task.
Literally thousands of variables need to be considered. The best
solutions will combine initial investment, cost of annual operation,
cost per pound to launch a vehicle, cost per flight, number of
flights per year and the minimum number of vehicles and people
needed to operate such a port. Safety, ease of launch and recovery,
accessibility, recycling time and conservation of resources, all
factors critical to the cost of getting into space—and back—also
come into play.
To apply numbers to the alternatives, the partners applied
current understanding of what it takes to run a spaceport to develop
a core model based on those many requirements. Researchers feed the
core model information on alternative vehicles’ capabilities and
support needs and the core model cranks out data based on each of
IST’s participation in the partnership is to create a module to
help people visualize that data. This graphic representation of core
model outputs will promote better understanding and encourage
collaboration to make future concepts a present reality.
IST’s visual module application is not just an imaginative
virtual reality tour of a possible spaceport. It provides a
graphical extension of the core model created by the team as a
The core model is meant to be a generic design and planning tool
with a host of uses at facilities beyond Kennedy Space Center. IST’s
initial proof of concept visualization module includes a library of
visual images of present day KSC facilities and functionality that
show various levels of detail. This becomes a starting point for a
more general purpose visual representation of data from the core
The current visual object library consists of more than 340
facilities at KSC modeled by UCF graduate students in a 3D CAD
(Computer-Aided Design) program using over 1,500 digital images for
detailed texture. Using the visual module application, all models
and data can be viewed at a number of levels. The viewer can
navigate through the 3D visual representation of the core model data
using either spatial (geographic) or functional modes for
representing spaceport operations. Also, the viewer can
simultaneously compare the current KSC site and a proposed spaceport
concept with one site superimposed on the other.
The team looks forward to expanding the library with visual
objects from others across the world who contribute their expertise
and ideas for the collaborative development of spaceport concepts.
Design concepts for spacecraft include single stage rockets (no
boosters) and commercial vehicles that can be rescheduled with
minimum turnaround time. IST has added digital versions of these
vehicle designs to the visualization module library for use in
representing future spaceport concepts.
Using the Kennedy Space Center as a base, the visualization
module can create a virtual reality world showing how a future
spaceport at KSC might look.
One concept includes an airport-like control tower, a seaport for
bringing in cargo by water, an integrated terminal for cargo and
people, a vertical launch facility and a magnetically levitated
track for horizontal vehicle launches.
Researchers hope this work will lead to advanced and visionary
spaceports that can support mixed fleets and function more like an
IST members of the Spaceport Synergy Team include Art Cortes,
general manager of the Visual Systems Laboratory, Jim Parsons,
principle investigator and Ron Hofer, co-principle investigator.
Graduate research assistants Jason Hupenbecker, Chris Kachurak,
Sean Waldon, and Jason Daly assisted in developing the model
library, menus and display icons. Bryan Kline developed the pointing