An old project from an SDS2 customer is getting new life this year at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida as NASA gets ready to launch a new series of missions to the moon—and beyond.
In 2009 The Steel Detailers, Inc., or TSD, completed work for the base of a mobile rocket launchpad. It was originally designed for Project Constellation, a long-term mission to return to the moon and ultimately send astronauts to Mars. The project was cancelled in 2010, and for many years, the steel launchpad has sat dormant at Cape Canaveral.
Now NASA is retrofitting the dream—and the launchpad—for Project Artemis, named after the Greek goddess of the moon.
The first mission, Artemis I, is gearing up for launch this spring. It will be uncrewed but will “pave the way for missions to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon” and set a foundation for a long-term lunar presence and further deep space exploration, according to a NASA press release.
In March, the retrofitted launchpad rolled out of Vehicle Assembly Building at the John F. Kennedy Space Center carrying the 322-foot-tall rocket to prepare for a rehearsal run of the Artemis I launch.
The true launch will take place early this summer. As we count down the days until liftoff, we’re looking back at the steel project now supporting NASA’s latest spaceship.
Rocket launch load requirements
NASA has called their Artemis I spacecraft a “mega moon rocket”—emphasis on the mega. It encompasses both the space launch system itself as well as an Orion craft that will detach after launch and orbit the moon. In total, it stands nearly as tall as a football field and weighs in at 3.5 million pounds—but that’s before 700,000 gallons of fuel are added, which will produce around 8.8 million pounds of thrust during liftoff.
In addition to supporting these incredible loads, the launchpad also had to be watertight. As a noise-dampening measure, over 450,000 gallons of water will be dumped onto the launchpad just before liftoff. This helps prevent acoustical waves from reflecting off the base and damaging the rockets during launch.
To top it all off, the structure must be mobile. It is kept elevated 22 feet of the ground to allow a mobile crawler-transporter underneath to lift and carry the entire structure and rocket system from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch complex—an uphill journey of 4.2 miles that took nearly 11 hours for the Artemis I mission.
Image and caption by NASA - "Artemis I WDR Rollout" - NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, with the Orion capsule atop, slowly makes its way down the crawlerway at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 17, 2022. Carried atop the crawler-transporter 2, NASA’s Moon rocket is venturing from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Complex 39B for a wet dress rehearsal ahead of the uncrewed Artemis I launch. View source.
Design and fabrication
The TSD team worked with the fabricators at Met-Con, Inc., to complete the base of the mobile launchpad, which alone weighs approximately 2,200 tons. The base stands 25 feet tall (approximately two stories), and is 165 feet long and 135 feet wide.
A tower was detailed and fabricated separately to complete the launcher. Supported by the base, it is 40-foot square and about 345 feet tall. In total, the mobile launcher weighs over 5,650 tons.
|Site photos by The Steel Detailers, Inc.|
Given the extreme forces of a rocket launch, the steel base required a number of unusual and challenging components.
The entire structure—base, tower, and rocket—is supported by just six load points. On the steel base, these are comprised of 4-inch base plates with 1.5-foot-long pins 9 inches in diameter, which connect to the 22-foot steel mounts.
One 90-foot truss required a wide flange size of W21x402, which couldn’t be found in stock and ultimately had to be fabricated out of plates. To meet the incredible load requirements, the resulting welded plate wide flange was 26 inches tall, with top and bottom plates both 3 inches thick.
Pipe trusses made up the outer frame of the launch base, as well as the supports for the launch tower. The pipes were up to 24 inches in diameter and up to 3.5 inches thick. To fabricate the massive trusses, Met-Con invested in a new Vernon Tool pipe cutting machine.
At the time, SDS2 had been working with Vernon Tool to integrate the CNC data, and TSD became some of the first detailers to test out and troubleshoot the integration. All pipes were ultimately cut for the project via CNC, with no layouts required.
To learn more about the Artemis I rocket system and keep an eye on mission news, check out https://www.nasa.gov/artemis-1.
Featured image and caption by NASA - "Artemis I at Pad 39B - Sunrise" - The sunrise casts a warm glow around the Artemis I Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft at Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 21, 2022. View source.
Note: The use of NASA photographs in this article is for informational purposes only and does not indicate NASA endorsement or support for SDS2 or other organizations mentioned in the article.