Propellants Handling and Servicing

The NASA Propellants and Life Support Branch (PLS) offers Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station customers one-stop access to over 22 liquid propellants, pressurants, chemicals, and special fluids.  Each year PLS completes thousands of support operations for Altas, Delta, Falcon, International Space Station, spacecraft, ad on-board payloads.  We bring expertise in PLS logistics, engineering, and business to deliver safe, reliable and cost effective propellant support.  Go fly and leave the propellants acquisition, coordination, storage, chemical analysis and distributions to us!

Many aerospace operations require the use of fluids and gases, also known as propellants and pressurants.  As the nation’s premier launch site for more than 50 years, KSC offers a high level of engineering expertise and capability related to the acquisition, storage, transfer, sample and analysis, and distribution of propellants, including the associated operations and maintenance of propellant facilities, systems, and equipment. This support includes maintenance of permanent distribution pipelines to major operational facilities such as the launch pads, the Vehicle Assembly Building, the Space Station Processing Facility and the Launch Equipment Test Facility.

Image of propellants in containers
Image of outside of propellants unit

Capabilities / Services

  • Storage, handling, and servicing/de-servicing expertise
    • Hypergolic, cryogenic, Freon, ammonia, helium and nitrogen     
    • Propellant filtering and purification services     
    • Composite Overwrapped Pressure Vessel (COPV) and pneumatic system servicing expertise
  • On-site chemical analysis lab for chemical purity and particulate count
  • Material compatibility testing for hypergols and cryogenics 
  • Advanced leak detection capabilities 
  • Personal protective equipment development
Image of person suited up engaged with propellants.

Accomplishments

  • Providing propellants and SCAPE suits in support of flight operations for launch vehicles at the Cape Canaveral Air Force station, including those owned by SpaceX and United Launch Alliance
  • Provided propellants and SCAPE support to Lockheed Martin in support of the Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 mission in December of 2014
  • Manufactured SCAPE suits for Vandenberg Air Force Base
  • Designed and built a molecular sieve for N2O4 purification associated with an on-going JWST iron-leaching test project
  • Provided hydrazine for NASA spacecraft missions such as MAVEN, MSL, MMS, and DSCOVER
  • Provided propellants and safely loaded fuel for multiple Morpheus Project test flights at the KSC Shuttle Landing Facility
  • Providing Breathing Air Purge System to Moon Express for test operations
  • Provided support for the Space Shuttle Program:
    • Safely performed more than 235 Space Shuttle cryogenic servicing and 90+ successful cryogenic de-servicing operations
    • Safely loaded ammonia onto 100+ Space Shuttles, 7 ISS truss elements, and 5 ammonia tank assemblies

Our office is the Responsible Center For NASA-Wide Aerospace Fluids Acquisition and Management.  We provide NASA the most cost effective and reliable sources of liquid propellants, gases, and special aerospace fluids.  Specific expertises are:

  • Leadership in acquisition of aerospace fluids under the Consolidated Contracting Initiative for bulk helium, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen, and execution of other technical and administrative contract support
  • Core technical expertise in cryogens, gases, hypergols, hydrocarbons, and special aerospace fluids
  • Knowledge of market conditions affecting availability and costs of required fluids
  • Monitor new program fluid requirements, assess the impacts to current supply sources,  and develop strategies for support
  • Monitor consumption and costs of major fluids used Agency-wide, and develop strategies for improved fluids logistics 
  • Represent the Agency on professional, technical, and legislative issues related to fluids logistics

Locally at KSC, PLS duties include:

  • Responsible for propellant and life support services and equipment provided under KSC contract to operate and maintain the NASA’s largest and most diverse inventory of propellants and life support equipment
  • Responsible for the storage and distribution of 22 different fluids at KSC, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and to other local customers
  • Provide technical expertise to the design and operation of propellant systems to support space flight hardware processing
  • Unique fluid storage and supply capability for high purity anhydrous ammonia, and high purity liquid oxygen
  • Oversee design, manufacture and then operate unique support equipment such as: hypergol containers, liquid helium conversion system, liquid oxygen tankers, SCAPE, liquid air packs, and N2O4 Molecular Sieve
  • Liquid Air mixing and use
  • Provide operation and fluids engineering support to Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion, Atlas V, Delta IV, Falcon 9 space launch systems, the International Space Station, and all KSC/CCAFS spacecraft missions. 

Pressure Vessels & Pressurized Systems

The PV/S Program and Staff are now part of KSC Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate (SA)

The NASA PV/S program is lead by the pressure systems manager (PSM). The PSM is responsible for ensuring compliance to KNPR 8715.3 Attachment E, which complies with NASA policy’s NPR 1710.5 and NASA-STD-8719.17. The PSM holds quarterly PV/S Safety Committee meetings with the O&M contractors, and NASA systems engineers to discuss current certification and inspection status, important code or policy changes, any incidents in the previous quarter, or other PV/S issues.

NASA PV/S is charged with ensuring all new designs and procurements comply with the ASME Boiler and Pressure Codes, and the appropriate piping standard. Designers should be sure to include PV/S representation on their 30/60/90 and 100% design reviews to ensure PV/S certification requirements are met before installation and operation.

The PV/S program covers both internal and external (vacuum) pressure vessels and pressure systems. There are very few exemptions to certification, and those can be found in KNPR 8715.3, but exemptions must be cleared through the PSM and documented. Mobile Equipment operated and maintained on KSC are 49 CFR compliant.

Examples of covered PV/S include:

  • Cryogenic Dewars
  • Pipelines/Piping Systems
  • Large air receivers
  • Vacuum vessels
  • Pressure vessels

KSC has approximately 3,000 pressure vessels and related systems.

The certification is a review of the related manufacturing documentation, an inspection of the vessel or system, and its operating history. The certification also includes a schedule for inspections and recertification intervals.

PV/S questions or concerns should be directed to the Pressure Systems Manager.