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Green Touches Energize Kennedy's Newest Facility

State-of-the-art solar arrays top the roof of the Propellants North facility, giving the building a way to generate its own electricity. Photo credit: NASA/Frank Michaux
by Rebecca Regan
Cape Canaveral FL (SPX) Jan 25, 2011
Kennedy Space Center rang in 2011 with the grand opening of NASA's "greenest" facility on Jan. 20. As the new hub for fueling spacecraft on journeys to unlock the mysteries of the universe, the Propellants North Administrative and Maintenance Facility will tap into Earth's most natural resources.

"This is our start. This is setting the standard," said Kennedy's Center Director Bob Cabana. "How can you not be enthused about something that requires zero energy? It actually puts more energy out than it requires to run in a 24-hour period."

The facility qualifies for the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design, or LEED, Platinum status, which is the highest of green building certifications. That certification system is based on the use of sustainable sites, materials and resources, water and energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality and design innovation.

"While our NASA primary mission is exploration, the agency also tends to another important mission - protecting planet Earth," said Mike Benik, the director of Center Operations at Kennedy.

"This facility behind me is a sterling, or should I say platinum, example of how NASA and KSC are leading the way."

To lead the way, the new facility will become a test bed for more environmentally friendly projects at NASA centers by making sure every aspect is truly green.

"I think it's the future for us here at the Kennedy Space Center," Cabana said. "I think we're going to add more facilities like this and eventually get to where some of our old 1960s infrastructure has been updated and brought to new standards."

The test bed begins with a parking lot of the future. For less than $1.50 a day, an electric or hybrid vehicle can plug into a nearby solar-powered charging canopy. The eight-car station was paid for by the Department of Energy's Transportation Electrification Grant Program and can be used for government or privately owned vehicles to reduce dependency on gas.

"This will hopefully give folks an incentive to buy electric cars and have a place to plug in," said Frank Kline, the facility's project manager with NASA Construction of Facilities.

The sun's power doesn't stop there. More than 300 photovoltaic panels are expected to generate more energy than will be used at Propellants North, making it the space agency's first net-zero facility. Even the orientation of the facility maximizes sunlight, decreasing the demand for energy.

"We've had experts come in and give us kudos on how well the system is actually functioning," Kline said.

Water is a big part of the conservation effort, too. Toward the back of the facility is a 7,500-gallon rainwater harvesting system that consists of three storage tanks. Non-treated H2O from the system will be used for the facility's toilets and irrigation system, while treated water can be used for drinking and hand washing.

Revered as American icons, NASA's spaceflight history adorns the walls. Other artwork brightly contrasts the power of spacecraft propellants and the peace of the raw nature and wildlife that exists in harmony at Kennedy.

While most of the facility's features are brand-new, Propellants North also is steeped in rich history.

Crawlerway rocks that were crushed during space shuttle treks to Kennedy's launch pads are used as a substitute for mulch. In the lobby, windows and framing saved from Kennedy's Launch Control Center firing rooms are the focal point of the facility.

"To me, this is the million dollar view from this facility," Kline said. "You have the same view as you did, looking out in 1964 from the Launch Control Center, set at the same angle and orientation as in the firing rooms."

Kline and his team even insisted that the windows be left in their original state, with the salt air stains on the outside and a nicotine patina on the inside from when NASA allowed smoking in the firing rooms.

This clean, 'green' building puts emphasis on human and environmental health that is quite a contrast from the popularity of tobacco use back in the early days of the space program, and workers in Propellants North are guaranteed to reap the benefits from this uber-smart facility.

An automated light control system helps overhead LED lights and sunlight work in tandem to always give the facility's occupants peak lighting, which is thought to enhance work place morale and increase productivity.

"We get a lot of daylight into this facility, especially the second floor," Kline said. "These adjust the power to the lights to keep a constant lighting level."

Even the air-conditioning system is pretty clever. Its efficiency comes from highly insulated roof and walls, as well as a thermostat that regulates the temperature and relative humidity up to 5 feet above the ground, which is where most people spend their time.

"This system works from the ground up. Hot air rises, so the air conditioning here starts from the floor and goes up," Kline said. "It's kind of the opposite from what a normal facility would be, pushing cold air down."

The system requires no duct work, because the air flows underneath the facility's sustainable bamboo flooring. Vents in each work station can even be relocated for the comfort of the occupants. The system also goes a step further and monitors the CO2 levels in the building. As the number of people in the facility increases, the system will detect when more fresh air is required.

Propellants North also is using an energy-saving feature that could be added to existing Kennedy facilities in the near future. Called a controlled power station, when an occupant leaves their work area for an extended period of time, it will turn everything using electricity off except their computer. This small step could greatly reduce an existing facility's monthly power bill.

The design team's attention to detail didn't escape the restrooms, either. Hygienic hand dryers scrape water from hands in a matter of seconds, much like a power dryer at a car wash. And the showers and sinks are made to conserve as well.

"All the fixtures are high-efficiency fixtures and they're all automated," Kline said. "And they're super-low flow, so you use very little water."

While Propellants North will be working for its occupants, its occupants will need to develop a green thumb of their own to maintain the center's reuse, recycle and repurpose efforts.

"We have bins for plastic, aluminum cans, white paper, cardboard. The whole idea is to change people's habits to not throw things away," Kline said. "We can recycle most things nowadays. So, we try to reduce what ends up in the landfill."

The construction crew had the same concept in mind throughout the year-and-a-half building phase. To date, more than 98 percent of all waste, totaling 664 tons, was diverted from landfill disposal.

Cabana credited a diverse team of designers and builders with crafting a new approach to construction and facility usage that focused on environmental impacts and benefits.

"The integration of the team has just been outstanding," Cabana said.

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