Thursday, August 18, 2011
A Rocky Road
A 1963 schematic of the Crawlerway. Image source: NASA.gov.
In reading yesterday through the October 2009 Ares I-x Press Kit, I found this passage:
The maximum crawlerway loading reported to date from any Apollo or space shuttle configuration is 18.6 million pounds. The Ares V loads are projected to be up to 35 percent larger.
That left me wondering how NASA planned to roll out Ares V to LC-39 when the day came — if ever, since the 2009 Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee report found that Ares V would not be available "until the late 2020s, and there are insufficient funds to develop the lunar lander and lunar surface systems until well into the 2030s, if ever."
Constellation, as we know, is officially cancelled. But the proposed Space Launch System will face the same problem. So was the Crawlerway's weight capacity ever addressed?
According to an August 2010 NASASpaceFlight.com article, a new six-track "Super Crawler" was planned to transport Ares V to the launch pad.
The article reported that tests were conducted that year on a section of the Crawlerway near LC-39B. According to the article, the maximum weight ever carried during Apollo and Shuttle was about 18 million pounds. The Ares V with the new Super Crawler would have weighed about 25 million pounds.
According to NASASpaceFlight.com:
The findings of the testing, which was conducted by NASA, the United Space Alliance (USA), Architect and Engineering firm Jones Edmunds and Associates (JEA) and a couple of additional contractors, are expected sometime in September.
Searching the Internet, I found minutes of a July 2010 meeting which seem to indicate that the Crawlerway could handle the heavier load.
The minutes quote the Jones Edmunds study as concluding, "30 million pounds will be the maximum recommended loading. Jones Edmunds will discuss the potential for greater than 30M lbs with incremental conditioning and additional investigation." Individual segments showed some weakening (not surprising after 45 years of use), and further analysis was recommended.
The Vehicle Assembly Building and Crawlerway under construction in May 1964. Photo source: NASA.gov.
A June 5, 2011 NASASpaceFlight.com article reported:
Initial testing was completed last year on one area of crawlerway just outside of Pad 39B, via a strange looking contraption which aimed to test the impact of over 25 million pounds on the rock surface of the track.
The findings of the testing, which was conducted by NASA, the United Space Alliance (USA), Architect and Engineering firm Jones Edmunds and Associates (JEA) and a couple of additional contractors, was classed as positive.
The article also noted, "No references have been made into the use of the Ares I Mobile Launcher (ML), which remains sat next to the VAB, with a launch mount which is highly specific to the Ares I vehicle."
The Orlando Sentinel reported on August 5 that NASA is awaiting an independent cost analysis by Booz Allen Hamilton before releasing the design of the Space Launch System. It will be interesting to see whether the proposal includes money for upgrading the Crawlerway, and the transporting system that has served NASA for nearly a half-century.