The OSIRIS-REx project continues to progress seamlessly through the Assembly, Test, and Launch Operations (ATLO) phase. We are now done with the AT portion of this phase and have started LO. The test phase ended with the completion of the last major environmental test: the thermal vacuum test. With the test program complete, the team made the transition to the launch site at Kennedy Space Center. I was privileged to join the team in transporting the spacecraft to the launch site. I participated with great pride as we shipped our spacecraft halfway across the country on the first step of the journey to Bennu and Back.
The transition from the Lockheed Martin facility in Littleton, CO to KSC required transport of the spacecraft and a large amount of ground-support equipment. The entire spacecraft shipment operation was under LM test conductor control and protocols. Ground hardware shipment was accomplished by hiring trucks to carry all required hardware to Florida.
Spacecraft shipment was accomplished in three phases. For the first stage, Lockheed Martin transported the spacecraft from the Lockheed Martin facility to Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, CO. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office escorted the spacecraft on this leg of the journey. Once we arrived at Buckley, the shipping container was removed from the trailer and placed on the tarmac behind the aircraft using a forklift.
For the second stage, an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft from the 437th Airlift Wing, Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, was used to transport the spacecraft from Buckley AFB to the Shuttle Landing Facility at KSC. Once we arrived at Buckley, the shipping container was removed from the trailer and placed on the tarmac behind the aircraft using a forklift. The crew welcomed us on board the aircraft and provided a safe and comfortable ride. We became fast friends and ended up inviting them to the launch in September. We look forward to seeing them again as we wish OSIRIS-REx off on the journey to asteroid Bennu.
To mitigate any contamination control concerns, the spacecraft and instruments were under a near-continuous purge of high-purity nitrogen gas. Throughout the day, there were several planned outages of this purge. As long as these events were less than 60 minutes in duration, we would maintain our cleanliness requirements. These events occurred during spacecraft and shipping container lifts and during the C-17 winching operations. During the winching, we managed to get back on purge after 53 minutes, leaving us seven minutes to spare! Just before the C-17 doors were closed, the purge was reduced for the duration of the flight for personnel safety reasons.
The C-17 transport aircraft touched down on the KSC Shuttle Landing Facility just before 7:30 p.m. local time. The procedures for offloading from the C-17 were essentially the reverse of loading procedure. The spacecraft was taken to the Payload Hazardous Serving Facility, our home for the next few months, until we are encapsulated in the payload fairing and lifted on top of the Atlas V rocket.
We were joined on our journey by Pen-Rex, the mission’s unofficial mascot. She is penguin, disguised as a dinosaur. Nobody knows where she came from or when she joined the project. My suspicion is that she snuck out of the ICESat-2 project office, which is right next door to us at Goddard Space Flight Center. Undoubtedly, she was unable to resist the excitement of participating in the asteroid sample return mission!
The transport of OSIRIS-REx to KSC required coordination across multiple support organizations. I am extremely grateful to team members from Goddard Space Flight Center, Lockheed Martin, the University of Arizona, the US Air Force, Kennedy Space Center, the Shuttle Landing Facility, Jacobs Technology, the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility, the Department of Transportation, and the Douglas County Sheriff’s department. Everyone performed their jobs with enthusiasm and pride. Thank you!