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I work at a university that gets LN2/LHe (liquid nitrogen and helium) delivered a couple times a week by a large tanker truck outside my office. It seems to work well enough to deliver a couple tons of cryogens per week, but a rocket (e.g. Falcon 9 or Delta 4 Heavy) could use 200-600 tons of cryogens. How are they delivered to the pad?

Is it just a fleet of trucks? Are they manufactured nearby (LOx, liquid oxygen, seems easy enough to produce given lots and lots of electricity) and piped to a holding tank?

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  • $\begingroup$ Even more interesting with kourou space center which is far away from the mainland $\endgroup$ – Antzi May 12 '15 at 22:44
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Kennedy Space centre in Florida formerly had its own plant for the manufacture of cryogenic fuels and other liquids. This is now closed as noted earlier. The procurement for cryogenic fuel for NASA is done via the office of procurement at KSC. It was determined that the US has only one supplier cryogenics that can supply the cape with the necessary 30 trucks per day necessary to fuel a launch, and that is Praxair. They supply both oxygen and hydrogen to KSC.

Other NASA sites are also supplied by Praxair, and other contractors.

Vandenberg has an on site cryogenic plant operated by Air Liquide of America, but it is not cler what volume they supply for launches there - its probably classified.

ESA's launch site at Kourou has an on-site cryogenic plant operated by Air Liquide. More information at the Kourou web site.

Baikonur also has an onsite cryogenic plant, mainly because it is hundreds of miles from anywhere! There is also a plant at Plesetsk, and one will be built at Vostochny. Most of the Russian Cryogenic plants are now owned and operated by the Cryogenmash company.

There is an extensive railway system a Baikonur and the fuels are moved from the storage tanks to the launch pad by rail cars. Here are some photos from Baikonur to illustrate that:

Cryogenic rail cars cryogenic tank farm Fuel Pipes Fuel Delivery enter image description here

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At Kourou, there's a production plant for liquid hydrogen and oxygen. The plant is run by Air Liquide, a French company that specializes in industrial gases.
There's also a casting facility for solid rocket stages.

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Depends on the fuel.

With Liquid Oxygen, for regular launches, it makes more sense to build a LOX plant nearby and pipe it to the pad/storage tank, than it is to buy it offsite. You can see the SpaceX oxygen ball near the pad at LC-40. It seems that during the Saturn project they had such a plant at the Cape near LC-17 but no longer.

Nitrogen in large qualities is the same.

The others are usually trucked in or brought by rail car. Kerosene/RP1 is most likely brought by train or truck for SpaceX.

Consider how much Kersone, LOX, and LH2 the Saturn V launches took? Many times that of a Falcon 9 launch.

An interesting side question is how SpaceX gets LOX at the McGregor test site where they test single Merlin engines almost daily, and often run tests on full up Falcon 9 first stages.

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  • $\begingroup$ Does Cape Canaveral/KSC or other large launching facilities have plants on-site? $\endgroup$ – Nick T May 12 '15 at 17:48
  • $\begingroup$ Couldn't resist the opportunity to be anal about it ; I think you meant Nitrogen in large quantities :) $\endgroup$ – Everyone May 19 '15 at 7:22

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