NASA recovery ship
The NASA recovery ships are two ships, the MV Liberty Star and the MV Freedom Star that are tasked with retrieving spent Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) following the launch of Space Shuttle missions. Although owned by NASA, the ships are currently operated by Space Flight Operations contractor United Space Alliance.
Design and construction
Both ships were built at Atlantic Marine Shipyard on Fort George Island, Florida, and delivered in January 1981 to their original owner, United Technologies Inc. They are propelled by two main engines providing a total of 2,900 horsepower (2.2 MW), and are capable of towing 60,000 pounds (27,000 kg) each. Two auxiliary engines with jacuzzi-like jets (similar to those found in Naval riverine craft) allow the ships to coast up the Banana River without harming the local manatee population.
Aside from their usual missions of retrieving the Space Shuttle SRBs, the Liberty Star and Freedom Star have occasionally been used for other purposes. Starting in 1998, the ships began making use of their downtime between Shuttle launches by towing the Space Shuttle external fuel tanks from their assembly plant at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana to the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The ships may perform similar missions if the new Ares V rocket is built after the Shuttle is retired in 2011.
To withstand the towing burden, Liberty Star and Freedom Star underwent deck-strengthening enhancements. The sterns were strengthened at critical points, new bulwark fairings were added, and an H-bitt was installed through which cabling is threaded to keep it centered during towing operations. An hydraulic towing winch was also installed, referred to as a double-drum waterfall winch, holding 2,000 feet or more of wire rope on each drum. One drum supports booster retrievals while the other is devoted to external tank towing.
The ships have also occasionally been used to support scientific research operations including research for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and several universities. The ships are normally docked alongside each other next to the Solid Rocket Booster processing facility at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. satellite image