Ares I ML takes a ride on Crawler Transporter during relocation

by Chris Bergin

Crawler Transporter 2 (CT-2) has successfully relocated the giant Ares I Mobile Launcher (ML) to its new location at the East Parksite. Although the ML’s future remains extremely bleak – now Ares I has been cancelled via the passing of the NASA Senate Bill in Congress this week – it will be hooked up to utilities and power supplies at its new location.

Ares I ML Move:

The move was originally set to take place in August, prior to the grounding of both CTs, after a suspected lightning strike on CT-2. Engineers found damage to the recently installed “special electrical equipment” after a routine checkout, with problems associated with the control boards for the servo valve on the JEL (Jacking, Equalization and Leveling) system.

Both CTs underwent a replacement of their JEL power systems, prior to CT-1 being released for its job to carry Discovery – as the STS-133 stack – to Pad 39A on September 20.

CT-2’s replacement hardware was then checked out via a test run around the block, confirming it would be ready to perform the task of lifting the ML, in order to gain a weight measurement – an important task as it is understood the structure is much heavier than expected due to numerous modifications during its fabrication.

“Crawler-Transporter 2 (CT-2): CT-2 repairs are complete. A test run from the CT-Yard to SRM Road and back was successfully performed,” noted NASA Test Director (NTD) reports (L2) since the CT was grounded. “CT-2 will be used to support ARES Mobile Launcher (ML) operations.

“Ares ML: Work to move the Ares ML from West Refurb to East Refurb will take place this week. Lift and weigh of the ML will be performed Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by the actual move on Thursday. MLP-1 (Mobile Launch Platform) will be moved from VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) HB-2 (High Bay) to West Refurb next week, following the completion of the ML move.”

CT-2 made its way over to the ML and was driven underneath the structure this week for the weighing task, although the actual task to move the ML was delayed by a day due to poor incoming weather.

“Crawler-Transporter #2 (CT-2)/Ares ML Move: CT-2 was successfully transferred to under the Ares-Mobile Launcher (ML). The plan is to lift the ML off the mounts, take data and lower back to the mounts. Another run of lift and data acquisition is planned,” added the NTD reports.

“CT-2 was successfully transferred to under the Ares-Mobile Launcher (ML). The planned lift of the ML was postponed due to incoming weather. The plan will pick back up when weather permits, with the lift and weigh operations. If possible both planned lift/weigh operations can be performed, prior to the move to the East Parksite, scheduled for Friday.”

With the ML weighed twice, the go-ahead was given to move the ML to its new location, which began at 10am local time on Friday. Moving behind Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF-3) and behind the VAB, the ML took what may be its only journey, prior to being reversed into the East Parksite location.

With the giant Launch Umbilical Tower (LUT), the total weight of the structure is around 9.5 million pounds, compared to the 8.2 million pounds for just the Shuttle’s MLP. Fabrication of the 345-foot LUT begin in May of 2009, in preparation for being placed on top of the ML’s platform as the LUT’s base, prior to the addition of nine additional sections via a giant crane at the build site.

Due to the specific design, the ML is only compatible with the since-cancelled Ares I launch vehicle. Major modifications to the launch mount could allow it to launch another vehicle, but at a cost that may be more expensive than starting over on a new ML.

With a HLV (Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle) now the directed plan via the recently passed Senate Bill, the ML has no role to fulfil.

For what will likely be a SD (Shuttle Derived) HLV, the combined weight of two SRB’s and the LUT would be too much weight for the existing transporters, and possibly the crawlerway itself.

Pre-empting a SD HLV riding down the crawlerway, testing was recently completed on the three mile track – last seen ahead of the Apollo program, ensuring the giant Saturn V would be able to enjoy a smooth ride to the pad.

The completed study involved the testing of various crawlerway rock surfaces to better understand the feasibility of operating a tracked transporter for a heavy-lift program, with the results of the testing expected late this year.

Pad 39B Demolition:

At the other end of the Crawlerway, demolition work has picked up on Pad 39B, work that has already been paid for by the now cancelled Constellation Program (CxP).

The original plan called for a clean pad, making way for the ML and Ares I to roll on to the complex, joining up with the massive Roller coaster EES (Emergency Egress System), which would be fixed into place, rising into the sky by several hundred feet, prior to being connected to the arrived ML.

Demolition cranes and equipment have already started to pull down parts of the Payload Checkout Room (PCR) located on the Rotating Service Structure (RSS), with work on pulling down the large parts of the pad structure expected to be completed by the end of the year.

“Mobilization of the Fixed Price Contractor (FPC) has begun on the Pad B demolition project with the installation of pad protection. The pad protection consists of a 4” layer of sand underneath ‘ thick timber crane mats. This protection will be located west of the main flame deflector and south of the Fixed Service Structure (FSS),” noted a status memo (L2).

“Once the protection is installed, the FPC will mobilize their equipment to the pad surface and then rotate the Rotating Service Structure (RSS) into position to begin the removal of non-structural elements from the RSS as early as next week (now in work).

“The FPC is expected to complete major demolition at the pad of the FSS (Fixed Service Structure) and RSS in December, and be complete with the salvaging by June 2011.”

It is not yet know how much of Pad 39B’s structure will be salvaged for historical preservation, although several parts of the structure have even more of an esteemed history than ‘just’ the Shuttle Program.

It is understand that the FSS was assembled using parts of Saturn V LUT No. 2, which was used for Apollo’s 6, 9, 12, and 14, and for the final Saturn V launch (Skylab 1). LUT-2 was disassembled in 1978, with reassembly of some sections beginning at Pad 39B in 1979.

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