Air Force Rocket Pad Demolition Clears Way For Privatization

By Joan Warfield Blazucki | September 28, 2010

On Florida's "Space Coast," a challenging demolition and recycling project is clearing the way for conversion of a former rocket launch facility for use by space-related commercial or government concerns.

For more than five decades, the Atlas-Centaur and Titan rockets served as U.S. Department of Defense workhorses, launching hundreds of payloads into space from Cape Canaveral Air Station, the East Coast space launch facility adjacent to the John F. Kennedy Space Center. The Atlas-Centaur family of rockets could lift small- to medium-size satellites designed for communications, weather or military use, placing them with near pinpoint accuracy into their intended orbits. The larger Titan family — whose rockets produced some 1.5 million pounds of thrust at takeoff — was relied upon for heavier lifting needs,including launching military satellites as well as interplanetary probes.

But despite their efficiency and cost-effectiveness, the Titan rockets, as well as earlier generation Atlas models, were finally relegated to retirement several years ago. After hosting 168 Titan launches, the final Titan launch from Cape Canaveral took place on April 29, 2005. While various Atlas models were launched between 1991 and 2005, only the Atlas V model remains inservice today.

Meanwhile, salt air and sea spray had begun to take their toll on the launching pads, towers and associated facilities. Concerns about potential environmental health hazards from PCBs and lead-based paint chipping off the facilities also contributed to the Air Force's decision in 2006 to dismantle and demolish the Atlas and Titan missile-launching systems.

"Basically, these facilities no longer support the way we launch modern-day rockets," explained U.S. Air Force Project Manager Kevin Hooper, adding that the Air Station hopes to lease the recovered real estate to a space-related commercial or government concern.

To handle the dismantlement and demolition, the Air Force hired AMEC Earth and Environmental and their Project Manager Lou Hambro, who turned to environmental contracting company MARCOR Remediation, Inc. Founded in 1980 as an asbestos abatement contractor and headquartered in Hunt Valley, Md., with 15 offices nationwide, MARCOR has extensive experience in specialty dismantlement and demolition as well as asbestos and lead abatement, salvaging, and asset recovery.

A Tall Order

The Cape Canaveral job called for the removal of the structural components of two Atlas rocket launch complexes — 36A and 36B — erected in the early 1960s and operated by NASA and later by government contractors to ready the rockets for blastoff. Each pad included a 210-foot Mobile Service Tower (MST) that moved the rockets into position; a 190-foot "Umbilical Tower" (UT) containing 200 tons of steel, which stabilized and fed propellants to the rocket prior to launch; and several other facilities, including a 30-foot-high by 30-foot-wide by 335-foot-long Launch System Facility (LSF), and a concrete "flame bucket" designed to direct the rocket launch heat and flames. The job also called for the removal of numerous support buildings in the launch area.

MARCOR also was contracted to remove a 240-foot-high by 300-foot-wide by 275-foot-deep Vertical Integration Building (VIB), once used to assemble up to four Titan rockets at a time, as well as a nearby railroad track that carried the assembled rockets to the launch pads, various concrete driveways, and other small structures.

Environmental testing had revealed that while the 36A MST did not exceed the TSCA standard for PCB paint (>50 ppm), about one-third — or 900 tons — of the 36B MST exceeded the TSCA standard, as did the high bay sections of the Titan VIB. Thus, while the 36A MST could be completely recycled, about one-third of 36B MST and the affected areas of the VIB were to be consigned to an on-site regulated waste landfill. The materials comprising the UTs, LSFs and flame buckets for both pads, as well the numerous support structures, could be recycled.

In all, approximately 11,000 tons of PCB-coated steel will be landfilled and 5,000 tons will to be recycled.

MARCOR began work on the multimillion-dollar project in November 2006, starting with the smaller facilities. Concrete from building walls, ramp areas and flame buckets was broken apart and excavated down to 2 feet below grade, with the areas then being graded, covered with top soil and seeded. The removed concrete is currently being crushed and used to fill voids, with any excess taken off-site for recycling. Meanwhile, PCB paint was ground off one of the LSFs (the other, 36A, is due to be demolished soon), and the remaining concrete also will be recycled.

Controlled Demolition

Dismantling the massive MST and UT towers proved a manageable challenge for MARCOR. For the UTs, MARCOR recommended felling them in a procedure known as a "pullover," which MARCOR Senior Project Manager Mark Klotzbach described as an "impressive sight."

"We began by making angled cuts on each tower's front legs, which would permit the towers to buckle when the angled sections were pulled out using wire ropes," he explained.

After several hours of preparation, each tower was then toppled to the ground in a very controlled manner.

"Our demolition experts then used torches and well as several excavators equipped with shears and grapples to cut and pull free the structural members," Klotzbach added. The recovered steel was sized, stockpiled for loading and then transported to be recycled.

To expedite demolition of the MSTs, Southeast Construction Operations Manager Angie Jones, along with Lou Hambro, Construction Supervisor Dave Cannon, and Health & Safety Officer Mike Greer (all with AMEC), arranged to have the facilities toppled by imploding them. Next, the MARCOR team under the direction of Supervisor Pete Braunger carefully cuts the structural members using a combination of shears and limited torch-cutting in non-PCB-impacted areas of the MSTs. The demolition team then loads out the materials, separating the contaminated steel and transporting it to the hazardous waste facility, while recycling the rest.

Meanwhile, the MARCOR crew also had begun work on removing the VIB structure. Because much of the steel in the structure's high bays exceeded the TCSA (Toxic Substances Control Act) standard, the entire high bay sections are deemed above TSCA and thus have to be disposed in a TSCA-licensed landfill. All steel on the lower bays, as well as the aluminum siding covering the entire building, met the TCSA standard, which meant that the materials could be recycled. Workers cut the steel into appropriate lengths, then lower each piece to the ground to be sorted, sized and loaded for transport. This phase of the project is scheduled for completion in October, with the entire Cape Canaveral job scheduled to be finished by late fall.

Unusual Security Challenges

Working at the restricted-access Air Station, which is not open to the general public, posed some security challenges for Klotzbach and his team. Special Cape badges are necessary for the full-time MARCOR crew, which has averaged about 12 workers since the project began. The team also must periodically work around critical "lock-downs" of the station prior to launches, as well as stay clear of certain areas when potentially hazardous operations are being conducted.

Despite the challenges, however, the project has been the experience of a lifetime for Klotzbach, an eight-year veteran of MARCOR, who commutes weekly from his suburban Philadelphia home to Cape Canaveral to oversee the job.

"It's been fascinating to work at a place that has played such a major role in our country's space program," he said. "There's a lot of history here."

And, as MARCOR brings down the launch facilities that at one time played a starring role in America's space program, yet another chapter of Cape Canaveral Air Station history is being written.

Author Information
Joan Warfield Blazucki is director of corporate communication for MARCOR Remediation, Inc.