Location: Kennedy Space Center, FL
Fleet Type: Federal Government (NASA) Fleet

 

 

Narrative

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center has been active in the Clean Cities program since its inception. As a federal government agency, it is mandated to transition to alternative fuels, yet they have taken it to another level. With a sprawling 144,000 acres, a city within itself, KSC has operated a fleet of alternatively fueled vehicles that adapt to the needs of the end-user. These include electric, compressed natural gas, and E-85 light duty vehicles, along with low-speed utility vehicles. Most recently, they replaced the legendary Astro vans with fully electric astronaut transport vehicles.

The Astro vans were modified Airstream motorhomes customized to accommodate a fully suited astronaut and specially trained launch crew members. The van was used to transport the space shuttle crew to the launch pad for launch dress rehearsals and on launch and landing days.

With the advent of the Artemis program, and its mission to the moon, NASA collaborated with Canoo Technologies of Torrance, California to develop specially designed, fully electric, environmentally friendly crew transportation vehicles. These zero-emission vehicles were designed with the crews’ safety and comfort in mind.

The Canoo’s carry astronauts wearing their Orion crew survival system spacesuits along with support personnel, and have room for specialized equipment for the drive to Launch Pad 39B ahead of Artemis missions. The drivers navigating the nine mile distance between the operations and checkout building to the launch pad are specially trained in vehicle operation and astronaut safety. The Canoo fleet will also be used for astronaut training exercises at the spaceport.

Getting back down to Earth, NASA KSC is busy working to meet President Biden’s goal of transitioning to a fully electric fleet by 2025. While the complex already has a robust EV infrastructure, they are adding dedicated charging stations to accommodate future acquisitions of EVs. There are also workplace chargers for personally owned vehicles (POV) that users can access during the workday for a fee (as a government agency, NASA cannot provide free charging). The current EV fleet includes battery electric and hybrid vehicles as well as low speed electric vehicles. All future replacement vehicles will be electric, but the schedule for new vehicle acquisition was altered by COVID, since the vehicles were not used as frequently and not ready for replacement as anticipated. KSC is using their current funding for infrastructure instead, in preparation for the eventual influx of EVs.

Outputs and Outcomes

Proterra Electric Bus parked alongside solar arrays powering EV chargers.

 Since KSC is guided by Presidential Executive Order, the decision to electrify their fleet was a given. In spite of that, KSC has historically been committed to shifting to alternative fuels. That commitment is based on both economic and environmental considerations of alternative fuels compared to conventional gasoline. From a cost standpoint, an electric vehicle can go 100 miles at a lower cost than a gasoline powered vehicle, and electric cars also don’t emit pollutants. And in the case of KSC, the solar arrays installed on site provide clean electricity to the charging stations.

Electric vehicle mileage (MPGe) has been better than gasoline powered vehicles, and fuel cost savings overall has been significant, with even hybrid electric vehicles maintaining a charge due to usage patterns. Vehicle operation and maintenance costs have not been significant, other than prospective concerns about battery replacements.

Best Practices & Lessons Learned

There is a great need for educating the end user on all aspects of electric vehicles, including charging and driving practices. At KSC, operating a motor pool vehicle means the driver must become accustomed to different makes and models of EVs, and consequently, understand the different charging methods (e.g., rear charging, different connectors). While some drivers may own an electric vehicle, the assumption has to be that the end-user is a novice needing orientation to an EV to reduce stress and anxiety. That need is often immediate and must be readily available. Transitioning with a hybrid, where the gasoline engine backup provides some comfort, can support the driver while they acclimate to charging demands and regenerative braking benefits. With the quantity of EV chargers at KSC, it’s important to understand how many you actually need, their maintenance considerations, and their sensitivity to harsh conditions, especially in a coastal environment.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Melissa Coleman, Transportation Office, NASA/KSC, for her input and Spencer Davis for his participation in Clean Cities. Special recognition to Bruce Chesson for his decades of support of the Space Coast/Central Florida Clean Cities Coalition.

PDF Version

Kennedy Space Center Fleet Story

post contents

Read More Fleet Success Stories