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NASA may have found a renter for its iconic Vehicle Assembly Building

NASA may have found a renter for its iconic Vehicle Assembly Building


Orbital ATK could use the building to make a new rocket

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Private spaceflight company Orbital ATK may be moving into NASA's iconic Vehicle Assembly Building — the huge structure at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the Space Shuttles and Saturn V rockets were put together. Orbital has entered into negotiations with NASA to use High Bay 2, a section of the VAB that was used to store the shuttles' external tanks. The company may use the area to construct a new rocket meant to rival the vehicles made by SpaceX and the United Launch Alliance, according to Florida Today.

The VAB is one of the world's largest buildings

The VAB is one of the world's largest buildings, in terms of volume. At 450 feet tall, the building has 129,428,000 cubic feet of internal space for constructing vehicles. It will eventually be used by NASA for construction of the future Space Launch System. If Orbital does get to move into the spacious VAB, it will have access to one of the three mobile launch platforms at Kennedy as well, according to NASA. That could potentially be used to launch whatever vehicle the company develops.

NASA has been looking for companies interested in using the VAB for the past year. In June 2015, the space agency solicited proposals for ways that companies could utilize High Bay 2 for spacecraft development. The idea is to further open up Kennedy Space Center as a public and private spaceport, where NASA and commercial companies can both build and launch their vehicles. Boeing also occupies a former shuttle maintenance hangar at Kennedy, and SpaceX leases one of the center's launch pads. "Over the past few years, the people of Kennedy have worked diligently to transform the center. We are now a true multi-user spaceport supporting a variety of different partners successfully," said Kennedy Director Bob Cabana.

If Orbital does get access to the VAB, it could use the space to build a rocket to compete for Air Force satellite launches, according to Florida Today. In January, Orbital was awarded a $47 million contract from the Air Force to develop a solid rocket propulsion system that could be used for national security missions. Right now, only SpaceX and the United Launch Alliance are certified to deliver military payloads to space. Orbital's new rocket could potentially increase the number of vehicles the Air Force could use to launch satellites.

Right now, Orbital's largest rocket is the Antares, which is used to launch cargo to the International Space Station. That vehicle has been grounded since 2014, after one of the rockets exploded on the launch pad during take off. Orbital is expected to debut an updated version of the Antares on May 31st.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Orbital has one rocket. The company also operates the Pegasus and Minotaur C, and the article has been updated.