NASA’s CT-2 Preps for Larger Deep Space Launches

NASA’s famous crawler-transporter gets an upgrade in preparation for more ambitious NASA voyages.

NASA, crawler, Moon, Apollo, ShuttleNASA engineers have just finished the first of two upgrades which have outfitted the world’s largest self-powered vehicle with new roller bearing assemblies on two of its four trucks.

Originally designed to service the Apollo Program’s Saturn rockets, NASA’s two crawler-transporters have been a workhorse for the space agency. Over the course of their 40+-year lifetimes the two crawlers have carefully transported hundreds of crafts down the 5-7 km (3-4 mile) long track between the Vehicle Assembly Building and Launch Complex 39.

While both vehicles have been capable of lugging some 5.44 million kilos (12M lbs), Crawler-Transporter 2 (CT-2) has been selected for an upgrade that will give it the ability to hoist the 8.16 million kilo (18M lb) loads required for future Orion and SLS missions.

Central to this upgrade are the newly replaced traction roller bearings, which help drive two of the CT-2’s four trucks. During its most recent tests, engineers and technicians from 30 contracting firms were on hand to monitor this massive undertaking. According to Mike Forte, a senior project manager working on the upgrade, “We were looking for any anomalies and establishing a baseline operating temperature for the new roller assemblies.”

NASA, crawler, Moon, Apollo, ShuttleIn the end, 88 new roller bearing assemblies, a new lubrication delivery system and an updated temperature-monitoring scheme were installed on the CT-2.

From now until the first SLS launch on December 17, 2017, CT-2 will continue its upgrade schedule receiving new engines, exhausts, hydraulics, brakes and computer systems. Thanks to its new heavy-lifting capability, this mechanical behemoth should give NASA the ability to move rockets capable of reaching Mars and beyond.

While it’s a bit of a downer, and possibly even disrespectful to say, my hope in the long-term is that NASA’s ambition and funding make the crawler transporter obsolete. While the vehicle is a testament to mega-engineering, I’m looking forward to a future where missions are launched from other places, such as space elevators, Orbit, the Moon and possibly beyond.

Images Courtesy of NASA