Home > Infrastructure

Preparing for Launch: Replacing a Key Piece of Space Infrastructure

By Luke Carothers

While space flight is an endeavor that allows us to explore reaches further and further away from the planet we call home, the ability to explore the stars relies on key pieces of infrastructure on the ground.  Last Fall, the first phase of a two-phase bridge replacement project at Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) was completed.  However, this isn’t just any bridge being replaced.  Originally built in 1964, the NASA Causeway supports the transportation of both heavy vehicles and massive rocket parts–-making it critical to the area’s unique function.  Old age and outdated drawbridge designs had made it clear that the bridge structures would soon be unable to support heavy spacecraft and freight loads.

With plans to increase the number of launches from Cape Canaveral and KSC in the near future, the need to secure safe passage of rocket parts became clear, and a partnership was formed between NASA and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).  The partnership selected Volkert to serve as Engineering and Design Consultant for the project, with WSP providing construction, engineering and inspection (CEI) services and Orion Marine Group as the Contractor.  The goal of the project was to construct new bridges designed and built to higher standards to allow for heavy cargo to be transported across them.  When completed, the new bridge spans will reach 65-feet above the Indian River Lagoon, and will have a relatively flat 3-degree incline, which will ease the transport of heavy rocket loads.

The first step in replacing this key piece of space infrastructure on the ground is the removal of the old structure, which Jim Lynch, Project Manager for WSP, describes as one of the most challenging parts of the project to date.  Built nearly 60 years ago, the old structure was a bascule bridge with two strongly built foundational structures.  To remove them, crews had to construct cofferdams around the foundation structures and demolish them down to the mud line.  Following this, the H-pile from the existing structures were removed using a vibratory hammer.

While the removal of the old bridge structure constitutes one of the most complex and challenging parts of the NASA Causeway project, Lynch says that other parts of the project were comparatively easy.  Lynch has been a part of the AEC industry for close to four decades, and has been working to build bridges in the state of Florida for nearly his entire life.  Drawing on his experience, Lynch points out that the location of the NASA Causeway project is perfectly suited to fast-tracked construction.  Compared to other bridge projects he’s worked on in Florida’s downtown areas, there is very little traffic throughout the day to impede work.  Without regular traffic or businesses, there is little to slow down progress on the project, and crews were able to complete Phase I of the project 125 days ahead of schedule.  

When it comes to traffic management, Lynch points out that the schedule was uniquely regular, with NASA commuter traffic crossing through once in the morning and once in the evening.  Still looking to avoid this traffic, most of the concrete placements for the structure in Phase I were poured at night.  While traffic management hasn’t been as much of a challenge as on other bridge construction projects, crews still faced challenges from weather and construction coordination.  According to Edson Corredor, Orion Marine Group’s Assistant Project Manager,  the project’s location in Florida means weather has played a significant role in the project’s schedule.  While the project has maintained a pace well ahead of schedule, they have had to contend with two hurricanes impacting the construction site.  During the summer months of 2022, particularly in July, the project faced a number of challenges and delays from rain, lightning, and heavy winds.  Corredor points out that, during the summer months in Florida, lightning has the potential to affect projects on a daily basis.  Furthermore, a significant portion of construction work was being done with cranes on barges, which means planning for inclement weather added to the already high requirements for coordination and preparation.

Phase I of the NASA Causeway Replacement project was completed in the Fall of 2023, and crews are currently at work finishing the demolition of the old structure with existing piles, caps, and sections of deck spans being loaded onto barges and trailers to be removed from the site.