Whether NASA is employing new technology to launch vehicles into near space or simply lifting heavy components with cranes on the ground, providing a safe setup is essential to the job. Recently, Safety Tech® Outrigger Pads from DICA played a small, but essential role, in two NASA projects.
Assisting with the LDSD Project
The Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project is sponsored by the NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The purpose of the project is to develop ways to get larger payload of supplies and materials to Mars for long-term missions to take place there in the future.
DICA supplied Safety Tech® Outrigger Pads measuring 117” x 36” x 4” thick, which were used under the jacks of the launch tower. The balloon launch tower is essentially a custom-built trailer with a mast at one end. Two jacks with 18” x 9’ pontoons—one at the front of the trailer and one at the rear—support the 150,000 pound weight of the trailer plus 8,000 pounds of rocket weight. It was under these jacks that the Safety Tech® pads were used.
Each pontoon carried half the total load weight and had to do so without slipping. “The mats worked really well and played a big part in the project,” said Erich Klein, aerospace engineer and project leader for the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, which is based in Palestine, Texas. “They helped distribute the load weight.”
According to Klein, the team was concerned about the ground’s ability to withstand the pressures applied to it. The launch took place on an old U.S. Navy runway built quickly during World War II. “These runways were built in a hurry by pouring a concrete mix directly on the ground. We were concerned that the sand/soil mixture could not take the pressure and that the pontoons would crush through the ground,” he said.
Solutions from the crane industry
Safety Tech features that crane users have come to rely on, such as industrial grade safety texturing and TuffGrip® handles, were equally important to the LDSD project team. “The textured surface of the mats provided good friction to grip the supports so that the tower did not slide around,” said Klein. Known for being lightweight, the custom Safety Tech mats weighed just 590 pounds each—significantly lighter than wood or steel alternatives.
Ultimately the LDSD vehicle operated perfectly, said Klein, who will continue to use Safety Tech® Outrigger Pads for additional test launches planned for 2015.
Upgrading NASA’s crawler transporters
In a separate project, earlier this year at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, DICA Safety Tech® Outrigger Pads were used in a more traditional crane lifting application (see NASA image archives here). DICA DR422 Heavy Duty Safety Tech® Outrigger Pads, measuring 42”dia. x 2” thick and weighing 93 pounds were used under a 75-ton Link-Belt HTC8675 truck crane.
The crane was replacing the drive wheels on the crawler-transporter that will carry the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft to Launch Pad 39B for launch on Exploration Mission-1 in 2017. The lift was conducted by Jacobs Technology Inc., which serves as the Manufacturing Support and Facility Operations Contract Team prime contractor at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
NASA has used the crawler-transporters for more than 45 years. Upgrades are necessary to increase the lifted-load capacity from 12 million to 18 million pounds to support the weight of the mobile launcher and future launch vehicles, including the SLS and Orion scheduled missions beginning in 2017.
“Safety Tech outrigger pads are an excellent solution to safely spread the load and to keep outrigger supported equipment level. Whether the application is in the utility industry, construction, road building, or maintenance activities, Safety Tech Outrigger Pads provide a strong foundation,” said Kris Koberg, CEO of DICA.
He continues: “DICA calculates pad and mat specifications based on the customer’s equipment, outrigger reaction force, soil bearing capacity, and application. The pads used on the LDSD project are a custom solution created by our team working in collaboration with NASA engineers. The DR422 pads used by NASA in the crawler-transporter upgrade are a standard item in our product line. DICA is very proud to have a continuing role in the safe setup of launch and maintenance programs for NASA,” he said.