Launching a rocket takes years of planning, and the most important element is the launch pad and its attendant facilities. The launch pad cradles, fuels and powers the rocket, before it is unleashed. In the case of NASA’s Space Shuttle, its rocket motors produced 3.2 million kilograms (7 million pounds) of thrust at launch. The corrosive exhaust and intense flames from the engines were channelled through a horizontal V-shaped flame trench, which consisted of two 453,600-kilogram (1 million-pound) deflectors made from steel coated with 12.7 centimetres (five inches) of heat-resistant Fondu Fyre concrete, which flakes off to disperse the intense heat.
The Space Shuttle was assembled on a moving launch platform (MLP) at the nearby vehicle assembly building (VAB) and taken to the launch pad on top of a crawler transporter. At the pad, a fixed service structure (FSS) has a lift to gain access to any level of the rocket. Anchored to it is the rotating service structure (RSS) that comprises a clean room used to load the rocket’s cargo.
It took at least a month for 170 technicians and specialists to prepare, check and launch the Space Shuttle, though for less complex, unmanned rockets the timescale is a matter of days. During the countdown, all links between the FSS and the rocket were systematically released, and lastly at blast-off explosive bolts free the shuttle from the MLP. To protect the delicate components of the vehicle and the pad itself, the MLP is flooded with water at a rate of 3.4 million litres (900,000 gallons) per minute to suppress the damaging sound waves and heat produced by the engines.