MV Freedom Star

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MV Freedom Star
Freedom Star with SRB.JPG
Freedom Star returns to port with an SRB after STS-131
United States
Name: MV Freedom Star
Owner: NASA
Operator: United Space Alliance
Builder: Atlantic Marine Shipyard, Fort George Island, Florida, U.S.
Acquired: January 1981[1]
In service: January 1981[2]
Out of service: September 28, 2012
Homeport: Port Canaveral, Florida, U.S.
Status: Transferred to James River Reserve Fleet
United States
Name: MV Freedom Star
Owner: U.S. Dept of Transportation
Operator: U.S. Maritime Administration, James River Reserve Fleet
Acquired: September 28, 2012[4]
Homeport: James River, Virginia, U.S.[4]
Status: In service
General characteristics
Tonnage: 484 GT, 743 GRT; 239 NT, 222 NRT[5]
Displacement: 1,052 short tons (954 t)[6]
Length: 176 ft (53.6 m)[6]
Beam: 37 ft (11.3 m)[6]
Height: 72 ft (21.9 m)[2]
Draft: 12 ft (3.7 m)[6]
Depth: 15 ft (4.6 m)[6]
Installed power: 2 × 223 hp (166 kW) Kato generators[6]
Speed: 15 kn (28 km/h; 17 mph)[6]
Range: 6,900 mi (11,100 km)[6]
Endurance: 30 days[6]
Capacity: 24 maximum[7]
  • 10 × crew
  • 9 × retrieval specialists
  • 1 × retrieval supervisor
Notes: Towing capacity: 60,000 lb (27,200 kg)[6]

MV Freedom Star was a NASA-owned and United Space Alliance-operated vessel which primarily served as an SRB recovery ship following the launch of Space Shuttle missions. It also performed tugboat duties and acted as a research platform. In 2012 it was transferred to the U.S. Department of Transportation as part of the James River Reserve Fleet. Her sister ship is the MV Liberty Star (now TV Kings Pointer).


The recovery ships were built at Atlantic Marine Shipyard on Fort George Island, Florida, and delivered in January 1981 to their original owner, United Technologies Corporation. As well as recovering the Space Shuttle SRB's Freedom Star has since 1998 been used to tow the Space Shuttle external fuel tanks from their assembly plant at Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana, to the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. She served a similar role in recovering the first test flight of the Ares I and was anticipated to continue recovering boosters for the Constellation program before it was canceled in 2010.

Freedom Star underwent special strengthening enhancements to withstand the greater burden of towing the external fuel tanks. The stern was strengthened at critical points, new bulwark fairings were added, and an H-bitt was installed through which cabling is threaded to keep it centered during towing operations. Also installed was a hydraulic towing winch, referred to as a double-drum waterfall winch, holding 2,000 feet (610 m) or more of wire rope on each drum. One drum supports booster retrievals while the other is devoted to external tank towing.

Freedom Star has also occasionally been used to support scientific research operations including research for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and several universities. She is usually docked alongside her sister at the Solid Rocket Booster processing facility at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Each ship is propelled by two main engines providing a total of 2,900 horsepower. The main engines turn two seven-foot (2.1-meter) propellers with controllable pitch, which provides greater response time and maneuverability. The ships also are equipped with two thrusters. The stern thruster is a water jet system that allows the ship to move in any direction without the use of propellers. This system was installed to protect the endangered manatee population that inhabits regions of the Banana River where the ships are based. The system also allows divers to work near the ship during operations at a greatly reduced risk.[8]

In April 2012, NASA used Freedom Star to track a commercial orbital spaceflight by a Falcon 9 launch vehicle flown to the International Space Station by their space transport contractor SpaceX.[9]


On September 28, 2012, Freedom Star was transferred to the U.S. Department of Transportation's James River Reserve Fleet for potential use as a training vessel.[4]


  1. ^ Janson, Bette R.; Ritchie, Eleanor H. (1990). Astronautics and Aeronautics, 1979-1984: A Chronology (PDF). NASA. p. 168. OCLC 21925765. 
  2. ^ a b Deming, Joan; Slovinac, Patricia (October 2007). Survey and Evaluation of NASA-owned Historic Facilities and Properties in the Context of the U.S. Space Shuttle Program (PDF). NASA. pp. 377–379. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 12, 2013. Retrieved November 12, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Freedom Star". Archived from the original on 29 January 2013. Retrieved 19 July 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c "National Defense Reserve Fleet Inventory" (PDF). United States Maritime Administration. October 11, 2012. pp. 2, 10. Retrieved November 12, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Freedom Star: General Characteristics". American Bureau of Shipping. Retrieved November 12, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Ship Specifications". September 19, 2002. Archived from the original on November 12, 2013. Retrieved November 12, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Inside SRB Retrieval" (PDF). Spaceport News. Kennedy Space Center. 41 (17): 4–5. August 23, 2002. Archived from the original on June 23, 2003. 
  8. ^ "Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster Retrieval Ships". September 1994. KSC Release No. 46-81. Archived from the original on 2011-02-07. 
  9. ^ Barnstorff, Kathy (2012-04-25). "Former Shuttle Booster Recovery Ship to Image SpaceX Launch". Retrieved 2014-03-29. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Liberty Star (tugboat, 1981) at Wikimedia Commons