Brevard, FL (Florida Today) -- It's been a year since a salvage ship steamed into Port Canaveral carrying the remains of Saturn V rocket engines that helped launch astronauts from Kennedy Space Center to the moon.
The recovery effort was run by Bezos Expeditions, led by Amazon.com and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos.
After sitting on the ocean floor for four decades, the more than 25,000 pounds of F-1 engine components are submerged again — now in about 20 treatment tanks at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, Kan.
There, a six-person conservation team is trying to stop severe corrosion, identify the parts and ready them for museum display. That work is expected to take another year.
"The F-1s themselves represent an incredible engineering feat that helped propel man to the moon," said Jim Remar, chief operating officer of the the Cosmosphere. "To be able to work on something so historically significant is quite an honor."
In addition, he said, some of the Rocketdyne engines' exotic alloys have never undergone conservation treatment before, so the team is setting the standards for how to handle them.
Not long after the conservation project began, a technician discovered an intact, stenciled serial number (No. 2044) that proved a thrust chamber, liquid oxygen dome and injector plate belonged to Engine No. 5 flown on Apollo 11, the first moon landing mission.
"It was just this moment of elation that we've got it, we found it," recalled Jerrad Alexander, the technician who made the breakthrough while standing knee-deep in an immersion basin in the pitch dark, working with a camera and ultraviolet light.
But such moments have proven hard to repeat: No other components yet have conclusively been linked to specific missions. More often, Alexander has found stenciled or stamped numbers rusted away or missing digits, but efforts to document the engines continue.
How the engine remains, which are still NASA property, will be displayed has not been decided, but they are expected to land at the Smithsonian Institution and the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
Va. and human spaceflight
Business and technology groups are lobbying for NASA funding next year to support launches of a new space station and then its crew and cargo — from Virginia.
In a Feb. 3 letter, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce asked U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski — chair of the appropriations committee and a champion of NASA's Wallops Island, Va., launch site — to allocate money from exploration programs to a public-private partnership with Bigelow Aerospace, the Nevada-based developer of private space habitats.
The letter claims Bigelow has an arrangement with SpaceX to build a launch pad at the state-run Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island. The pad would launch Bigelow's next-generation BA-330 habitat, then crews and cargo.
In fact, no such arrangement exists, at least not yet. And the huge BA-330 station would require a heavy-lift rocket likely dictating a launch from Florida, not Wallops.
In an interview, Mike Gold, Bigelow's director of D.C. operations and business growth, reiterated the company's interest in Wallops as offering more autonomy and fewer launch conflicts than at Cape Canaveral.
But he said Florida would benefit significantly if NASA committed to a demonstration program that helps advance its commercial habitats.
The habitats could support missions by NASA's Space Launch System and Orion crew capsule launching from Kennedy Space Center, or be serviced by commercial crew and cargo vehicles flying from here.
Bigelow's initial partnership with NASA is expected to take off next summer, with the planned Cape launch of a test module (the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM) to the International Space Station on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
"We're excited to take the next step after that," said Gold. "NASA has indicated support and a desire for the development of commercial space stations, so we're cautiously optimistic."
"If we proceed in this direction," he added, "launches of cargo and of astronauts and of the habitats themselves will be a wonderful thing for Florida, as well as potentially Wallops Island."
KSC systems make the grade
The NASA program readying Kennedy Space Center for launches of a giant exploration rocket and crew capsule passed an important test this month.
Called a preliminary design review, it affirmed that the Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) program is on track to support flights of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule, the first of which is targeted for late 2017.
NASA billed the March 20 review as a "major milestone" in KSC's transformation into a multi-user center that will support NASA and non-NASA launches.
The GSDO program's primary responsibility is to launch NASA's SLS and Orion. However, the agency has taken steps to make some infrastructure flexible enough for other vehicles to use, such as adjustable high bay access platforms and launch pad flame deflectors, and a "clean" design for pad 39B.
Whether other users materialize remains to be seen. The recent design review did not cover facilities like pad 39A, which SpaceX is expected to lease and modify for launches of Falcon rockets.
During a local event on March 17, NASA officials weren't sure how much this year's planned first flight of an Orion exploration capsule into space would cost.
On March 25, NASA responded that costs unique to Orion's flight, called Exploration Flight Test-1, are about $375 million.
Those unique costs include the mission's Delta IV Heavy rocket, expendable spacecraft components (including the service module, launch abort system and a stage adapter), launch operations and crew module recovery and refurbishment.
NASA is targeting a December launch of the Orion test vehicle without a crew from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 37.
A longer-term question is the cost to fly NASA's Space Launch System, the 321-foot rocket being designed to launch crews in Orion from Kennedy Space Center, starting around 2021.
NASA has not yet confirmed new projections for the cost to develop the SLS rocket, or its anticipated cost per flight. But during a congressional hearing last week, Administrator Charlie Bolden volunteered one rough estimate of the latter.
During a discussion about whether orbital fuel depots could enable human exploration with smaller, less expensive rockets, Bolden said not necessarily, because the number of launches needed to establish the depots would be extensive.
"So while an (United Launch Alliance) Atlas V or a (SpaceX) Falcon 9 may cost significantly less than an SLS, by the time you fly 10, 12 Atlas Vs or Falcon 9s, you've exceeded the cost of an SLS," he said.
Doing the math, SpaceX says its Falcon 9 launches of commercial satellites now cost about $60 million, so 10 to 12 of those would put the minimum SLS cost in the range of $600 to $720 million.
NASA recently awarded ULA a $172 million contract to launch a science satellite on an Atlas V. At that rate, the SLS cost could exceed $1 billion.
NASA on Friday awarded a $55 million contract to Orbital Sciences Corp. to launch the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) mission from Cape Canaveral in 2016.
Orbital's air-launched Pegasus XL rocket will deploy the satellite, and is expected to take off attached to the company's "Stargazer" L-1011 aircraft from the Skid Strip at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
That's where the two previous local Pegasus launches departed from, both back in 2003. The rocket has launched 42 times since 1990, including three failures, according Orbital's Web site.