The Mobile Concept - Initial Studies

Although LOD officials had appreciated the advantages of a mobile launch system for years, a Russian space achievement provided the impetus for the study that culminated in launch complex 39. Reports in early 1961 indicated a Russian capability of launching rockets from the same complex within a few days' time. LOD leaders saw a need to reassess American launch methods. Appropriately, considering the thousands of hours of overtime put into the future moonport, the initial plans were laid after duty hours. On the first weekend in February 1961, Debus discussed a new Saturn launch concept with Theodor Poppet and Georg von Tiesenhausen. At the end of the meeting, von Tiesenhausen was given the task of preparing several mobile launch alternatives.27

After von Tiesenhausen's Future Launch Systems Study Office began work in mid-February 1961, time clocks were ignored. One team member wryly recalls the two weeks compensatory time he enjoyed later in the year as scant repayment for the many hours of overtime devoted to the study. The survey considered moving the rocket from assembly area to pad in either a horizontal or vertical attitude and by barge or rail.28

While the Study Office examined the new proposal's impact on launch facilities, other LOD officials considered operational aspects. At a 21 March staff meeting, Debus challenged his subordinates to point up the concept's weakness. There was opposition, mostly on the grounds of cost. After a second day of debate, Debus appointed a formal committee under Albert Zeiler to consider the operational aspects. Any major problem area was to be brought to his attention before 31 March at which time Debus intended to introduce the concept to the Marshall Space Flight Center Board. On 30 March, Rocco Petrone described the new plan to Abraham Hyatt, director of NASA's Office of Program Planning and Evaluation. The following day Debus made his presentation before the Marshall Board. Von Braun and other MSFC officials reacted favorably and asked for a comparison of vertical versus horizontal transfer costs. Debus promised to provide the results of an in-house survey in four weeks, The Board also considered hiring Connell and Associates to conduct a more detailed investigation. On 10 April, LOD officials briefed Gen. Don R. Ostrander, director of the Office of Launch Vehicle Programs in NASA Headquarters, who exercised general management over Marshall and LOD. Although receptive to the new launch concept, Ostrander strongly opposed any idea of trying to incorporate it into LC-37. Budgetary planning was too far along to permit extensive changes. He cautioned Debus that any launch concept had to be compatible with the launch vehicle. Reliability, rather than high launch rates, should serve as the guiding principle.29

The Future Launch Systems Office was ready by mid-April to submit its findings to Debus. Included among numerous charts and drawings prepared for the briefing was an analysis of the new proposals (table 4), from which von Tiesenhausen's group concluded that a mobile concept based on a horizontal barge transfer was most economical.30 The projected cost advantages of the mobile proposals were good news, especially at a rate of 48 launches a year. Other questions remained unanswered. The offshore studies might still affect the choice of a launch concept. There was some question about the delivery dates for automated checkout equipment. The latest word from Haeussermann's Guidance and Control Division placed complete automation three to four years away.

Despite these uncertainties, Debus was anxious to secure approval from NASA's top management for further studies. A meeting with Robert Seamans, NASA Associate Administrator, was set on 25 April 1961 for this purpose. Debus met with von Braun one week earlier to review Marshall's position on launch facilities. The two men agreed that work on LC-37 should continue as planned, January 1964 was set as a tentative date for establishing the LC-39 criteria, allowing LOD nearly three years to investigate the mobile concept. The Seamans briefing went well, and feasibility studies for the new concept were authorized. The Associate Administrator told Debus to base the planning for LC-39 on technical considerations; cost was not to be the overriding factor.31

Martin and Douglas Aircraft Companies, at work on the C-2 operational modes study since November 1960, were logical choices to conduct a feasibility study of the mobile launch concept. Both Martin and Douglas engineers believed the present facilities would be satisfactory for a rate of 12 Saturns per year. For higher launch rates, a mobile concept was recommended "because of more efficient utilization of personnel and equipment, and reduced land requirements by virtue of its centralized assembly and checkout procedures."32 Douglas recommended transporting the mated booster stages from an assembly building in an upright position and adding the payload at the pad. Martin employed a rail-mounted vertical transporter or A-frame and called for mating the spacecraft in the assembly area with only propellant loading and countdown left for the pad. Both companies agreed that a mobile concept would provide more flexibility "because a greater latitude of launch rates is realized for any given expenditure." However, a Martin group working on Titan at the Cape recommended that LOD continue to assemble the rocket on the pad.33


Mobile Complex Vertical Transfer Mobile Complex Horizontal Transfer Fixed Pad (similar to LC-37
Expensive assembly building Economical assembly building No environmental protection for vehicle during assembly
Minimum loss by catastrophe Minimum loss by catastrophe Maximum loss by catastrophe
Hurricane Protection No Hurricane protection Hurricane protection
Maximum vehicle handling Maximum vehicle handling Minimum handling of assembled vehicle
Maximum R&D Maximum R&D Minimum R&D
Reconnect cables and retest onpad Reconnect cables and retest on pad No electrical or pneumatic disconnections required after checkout
Wind loads critical at transfer Wind loads not critical at transfer Wind loads critical during transfer

Operational costs using barge or rail transport from assembly area to pad, and using a fixed pad (in millions of dollars)

At a launch rate of 8 per year:

Mobile Complex Vertical Transfer Mobile Complex Horizontal Transfer Fixed Pad (similar to LC-37
rail-- $105
$60 (LC-37)

At a launch rate of 48 per year:

Mobile Complex Vertical Transfer Mobile Complex Horizontal Transfer Fixed Pad (similar to LC-37
rail-- $185
$370 (6 LC-37s)

Source: O. K. Duren, Interim Report on Future Saturn Launch Facility Study, Future Launch Systems Study Office, MSFC, MIN-LOD-DL-1-61, 10 May 1961.

27. KSC Public Affairs Office, Kennedy Space Center Story (Kennedy Space Center, FL, Dec. 1972), p. 5. No document is cited for the statement that the three men met 16 days after JFK's inaugural. This would place the meeting on Sunday, 5 Feb. The Daily Journal for 6 Feb. mentions a Saturday meeting of the three men.

28. Duren interview, 16 May 1972.

29. DDJ, 22, 30, 31 Mar., 10 Apr. 1961.

30. MSFC, Interim Report on Future Saturn Launch Facility Study, by Olin K. Duren, report MIN-LOD-DL-1-61 (Huntsville, AL, 10 May 1961).

31. DDJ, 17, 20, 26 Apr. 1961.

32. Douglas Aircraft Co., Saturn C-2 Operational Requirement Study, prepared by J. Simmons, report SM-38771 (Santa Monica, CA, July 1961), p. 188.

33. Ibid., pp. 171-205; The Martin Co., Saturn C-2 Operational Modes Study, Summary Report, report ER-11816 (Baltimore, MD, June 1961), pp. 19-25, 46-47, 66-68.

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