Vehicle Assembly Building


Vehicle Assembly Building
VAB exterior and LCC.jpg
Aerial view of the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center
Vehicle Assembly Building is located in Florida
Vehicle Assembly Building
Location within Florida
Vehicle Assembly Building is located in the United States
Vehicle Assembly Building
Vehicle Assembly Building (the United States)
Former namesVertical Assembly Building
General information
TypeIntegration facility
Town or cityTitusville
CountryUnited States
Coordinates28°35′11″N 80°39′5″W / 28.58639°N 80.65139°W / 28.58639; -80.65139Coordinates: 28°35′11″N 80°39′5″W / 28.58639°N 80.65139°W / 28.58639; -80.65139
Height526 ft (160 m)
Diameter716 ft × 518 ft (218 m × 158 m)
Technical details
Floor count1
Floor area8 acres (32,000 m2)
Design and construction
Main contractorMorrison-Knudsen
Vehicle Assembly Building
LocationBrevard County, Florida, U.S.
Nearest cityTitusville
Area8 acres (3 ha)
Architectural styleIndustrial
MPSJohn F. Kennedy Space Center MPS
NRHP reference No.99001642[1]
Added to NRHPJanuary 21, 2000

The Vehicle (originally Vertical) Assembly Building, or VAB, is a large building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC), designed to assemble large pre-manufactured space vehicle components, such as the massive Saturn V and the Space Shuttle, and stack them vertically onto one of three mobile launcher platforms used by NASA. As of July 2021, the first Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is being assembled inside, in preparation for the Artemis 1 mission.[2]

At 129,428,000 cubic feet (3,665,000 m3) it is one of the largest buildings in the world by volume.[3] The building is at Launch Complex 39 at KSC, 149 miles (240 km) south of Jacksonville, 219 miles (352 km) north of Miami, and 50 miles (80 km) due east of Orlando, on Merritt Island on the Atlantic coast of Florida.[3]

The VAB is the largest single-story building in the world,[4] was the tallest building (526 ft or 160 m) in Florida until 1974,[5] and is the tallest building in the United States outside an urban area.[5]


The VAB, which was completed in 1966, was originally built for the vertical assembly of the ApolloSaturn V space vehicle and was referred to as the Vertical Assembly Building. In anticipation of post-Apollo projects such as the Space Shuttle program, it was renamed the Vehicle Assembly Building on February 3, 1965.[6][7] It was subsequently used to mate the Space Shuttle orbiters to their external fuel tanks and solid rocket boosters. Once the complete space vehicle was assembled on a mobile launcher platform, a crawler-transporter moved it to Launch Complex-39A or 39B.

Sometime prior to the destruction of Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003, NASA installed a sub-roof inside the VAB to deal with falling concrete debris as a result of the building's age.[8]


VAB during construction (1965) with the three Mobile Launchers for the Saturn V rocket.

In 1963, NASA contracted the Morrison-Knudsen company to design and build the VAB. Construction began with driving the first steel foundation piles on Aug. 2, 1963. It was part of NASA's massive effort to send astronauts to the Moon for the Apollo program. Altogether, 4,225 pilings were driven down 164 feet to bedrock with a foundation consisting of 30,000 cubic yards (23,000 m3) of concrete. Construction of the VAB required 98,590 short tons (197,180,000 lb; 89,440,000 kg) of steel.[9] The building was completed in 1966.[10] The VAB is 526 feet (160.3 m) tall, 716 feet (218.2 m) long and 518 feet (157.9 m) wide. It covers 8 acres (32,000 m2), and encloses 129,428,000 cubic feet (3,665,000 m3) of space.[11]

Located on Florida's Atlantic coast, the building was constructed to withstand hurricanes and tropical storms. Despite this, it has received damage from several hurricanes (see below).


A crane lowers Discovery toward the ET and SRBs in high bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building for STS-124.

There are four entries to the bays located inside the building, which are the four largest doors in the world.[12] Each door is 456 feet (139.0 m) high, has seven vertical panels and four horizontal panels, and takes 45 minutes to completely open or close. The north entry that leads to the transfer aisle was widened by 40 feet (12.2 m) to allow entry of the shuttle orbiter. A central slot at the north entry allowed for passage of the orbiter's vertical stabilizer.

To lift the components of the Space Shuttle, the VAB housed five overhead bridge cranes, including two capable of lifting 325 tons, and 136 other lifting devices.

The building has air conditioning equipment, including 125 ventilators[3] on the roof supported by four large air handlers (four cylindrical structures west of the building) rated at 10,000 tons of refrigeration (120,000,000 BTU/hr) to keep moisture under control. Air in the building can be completely replaced every hour. The large doors can allow fog to roll into the building and become trapped, leading to rumors that the building has its own weather and can form clouds.[13]


VAB in 1977, with the Bicentennial Star opposite the flag. The Bicentennial Star was painted over with the NASA insignia in 1998. Note the Space Shuttle Landing Facility at upper left.

The American flag painted on the building was the largest in the world when added in 1976 as part of United States Bicentennial celebrations, along with the star logo of the anniversary, later replaced by the NASA insignia in 1998. It is 209 feet (63.7 m) high and 110 feet (33.5 m) wide. Each of the stars on the flag is 6 feet (1.83 m) across, the blue field is the size of a regulation basketball court, and each of the stripes is 9 feet (2.74 m) wide.[14] Work began in early 2007 to restore the exterior paint on the immense facility. Special attention was paid to the enormous American flag and NASA "meatball" insignia. The work repaired visible damage from years of storms and weathering. The flag and logo had been previously repainted in 1998 for NASA's 40th anniversary.[15]

Repair work after Hurricane Frances

The most extensive exterior damage occurred during the storm season of 2004, when Hurricane Frances blew off 850 14-by-6-foot (4.3 m × 1.8 m) aluminum panels from the building, resulting in about 40,000 square feet (3,700 m2) of new openings in the sides.[15][16] Twenty-five additional panels were blown off the east side by the winds from Hurricane Jeanne just three weeks later. Earlier in the season, Hurricane Charley caused significant but less serious damage, estimated to cost $700,000. Damage caused by these hurricanes was still visible in 2007. Some of these panels are "punch-outs", designed to detach from the VAB when a large pressure differential is created on the outside vs. the inside. This allows for equalization, and helps protect the structural integrity of the building during rapid changes in pressure such as in tropical cyclones.

The building has been used as a backdrop in several Hollywood movies including Marooned, SpaceCamp, Apollo 13, Contact, and others.


Discovery in the Vehicle Assembly Building waiting for a ferry flight to Dulles, Virginia, for permanent display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

The Space Shuttle was retired in 2011 after which NASA temporarily (as early as 2012) offered public tours of the VAB. These tours were temporarily discontinued in February 2014 to allow for renovations to take place.[17]

The NASA FY2013 budget included US$143.7 million for Construction of Facilities (CoF) requirements in support of what is now known as the Artemis program and its vehicles, including the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft. NASA began modifying Launch Complex 39 at KSC to support the new SLS in 2014, beginning with major repairs, code upgrades and safety improvements to the Launch Control Center, Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and the VAB Utility Annex. This initial work will be required to support any launch vehicle operated from Launch Complex 39 and will allow NASA to begin modernizing the facilities, while vehicle-specific requirements are being developed.[18]

The VAB could be used to some extent for assembly and processing of any future vehicles utilizing Launch Complex 39, in addition to renovations for SLS capabilities. On June 16, 2015, NASA released an announcement for proposals (AFP) seeking interest in using the VAB High Bay 2 and other complex facilities for commercial use in "assembling, integration, and testing of launch vehicles". This move is in line with the intent to migrate KSC towards acting as a spaceport accessible to both government and commercial ventures.[19] On April 21, 2016, NASA announced the selection of Orbital ATK (bought by Northrop Grumman as of 2019) to begin negotiations for High Bay 2. The "potential agreement" includes an existing mobile launcher platform.[20][needs update]



  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  2. ^ Kennedy Space Center [@NASAKennedy] (July 2, 2021). "Get a 360-degree look as teams lift the launch vehicle stage adapter and lower it onto the @NASA_SLS core stage" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  3. ^ a b c NASA (1999). "Vehicle Assembly Building". NASA. Retrieved September 23, 2007.
  4. ^ PR Newswire Association LLC (2007). "Groundbreaking Digital Experience for Endeavour Shuttle Launch". PR Newswire Association LLC. Retrieved September 23, 2007.
  5. ^ a b "Vehicle Assembly Building". Retrieved 2008-08-20.
  6. ^ "VAB Nears Completion". NASA History Program Office. NASA. Retrieved September 25, 2014. The new name, it was felt, would more readily encompass future as well as current programs and would not be tied to the Saturn booster.
  7. ^ America's Spaceport (PDF). NASA. p. 13.
  8. ^ United States Columbia Accident Investigation Board (August 2003). Columbia Accident Investigation Board, Report Vol. 1. p. 114. ISBN 978-0-16-067904-9.
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ VAB on
  12. ^ "Vehicle Assembly Building Fact Sheet" (PDF). NASA. NASA. Retrieved January 29, 2018. ... each with a door 456 feet (138.99 m)˜ high. The doors are the largest in the world
  13. ^ Cardona, Carolina1 (3 July 2019). "Inside the VAB at Kennedy Space Center". WKMG. Graham Media Group. Retrieved 14 March 2021.
  14. ^ "NASA Vehicle Assembly Building's Huge American Flag Flies Again". Retrieved 2009-11-02.
  15. ^ a b Mansfield, Cheryl L. (11 January 2007). "Restoring Old Glory and a Massive Meatball". NASA. Retrieved July 11, 2007.
  16. ^ CNN (September 6, 2004). "Frances tears panels from NASA shuttle hangar". CNN. Retrieved September 23, 2007.
  17. ^ Rocket Renovations Will End Public Tours of NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building
  18. ^ NASA FY13 Budget
  19. ^ NASA Solicits Proposals for Use of Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building High Bay 2
  20. ^ Grinter, Kay (2016-04-18). "NASA Selects Orbital ATK to Begin Negotiations". Retrieved 2016-06-29.

External links

  • Vehicle Assembly Building at Structurae
  • Vehicle Assembly Building, High Bay and Low Bay at Florida's Office of Cultural and Historical Programs
  • 3D model of the building for use in Google Earth
  • Spherical panoramas of Tower 'B', from the sub roof to Level 13
Preceded by
Miami-Dade County Courthouse
Tallest Building in Florida
160 m
Succeeded by
Independent Life Building