The Ben Guerir Air Base in Morocco, deactivated in 2005, was used for all inclination
launches as a weather alternate TAL site because of its geographic
location and its landing support facilities. Ben Guerir replaced
Casablanca, Morocco, which was last used as a contingency landing
site in January 1986. Ben Guerir was designated as a TAL site
in July 1988 and was last used for STS-111 in June 2002.
Morocco is located along the northwest
coast of Africa, between 27 degrees and 37 degrees north. It
is shielded from the Sahara desert of northern Africa by the
Atlas Mountains on the eastern border of the country. A cool
ocean current runs along the west coast, similar to the situation
in southern California, which makes the coastal areas subject
to low clouds and fog most of the year. The interior sections
of the country are generally arid with most precipitation occurring
from November to April and concentrated in the north.
Ben Guerir is located on a flat,
rocky, desert plain about 36 miles north of Marrakech and is
a former Strategic Air Command Base abandoned in 1962. It has
one runway, oriented in a north-south direction, which is 200
feet wide with 25-foot shoulders and is equipped with shuttle-unique
landing aids allowing for landings in both directions. Runway
18 is 12,720 feet long with a 1,000-foot underrun/overrun, while
Runway 36 which is the primary runway, is 13,720 feet long with
a 1,000-foot underrun and a 2,500-foot compacted dirt overrun
for a total of 15,720 feet.
NASA completed a construction project
in 1988 that rejuvenated the runway, added shuttle-unique visual
landing aids and a Microwave Landing System (MLS), a Tactical
Air Control and Navigation (TACAN) system, two remote weather
towers, and put in place utility and personnel transport vehicles,
four fire trucks, and two ambulances. An operations and storage
building was also constructed along with a tower to house the
satellite communications systems and other antennas. Sealer was applied to the asphalt surface
of the runway to help preserve and protect the surface.
Communications included three INMARSAT
satellite circuits and Moroccan commercial telephone lines.
Internet capability was available through a local Internet Service