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This is how the giant vehicle that transports NASA spacecraft works

Caterpillar transport. (photo: NASA)

SLSthe giant rocket POT carrying the spaceship Orion, which will allow humans to return to the Moon, was already on its launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida, for the first stage of the Artemis I mission, which will (hopefully) launch on August 29.

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the aforementioned rocket left on August 16 from the Kennedy headquarters of the Vehicle Assembly Building of the Space Center to Platform 39B, located in the same facility.

He also did it in a trip of about 10 hours, although the distance was just over 6 km. It’s a remarkably slow ride, but understandable considering the size of the spacecraft (it’s over 100 meters tall) and all the structure it has to carry to keep the SLS upright and the operator able to perform their respective duties. work during the tour.

Yes, the so-called Space Launch System that tours the facilities of the Kennedy Space Center is on foot. That means upright, ready to take off. How? Thanks to a vehicle developed by NASA itself: the caterpillar transport.

Tracked transport moves the SLS and more spacecraft

The crawler-transporter, or caterpillar transport, is a vehicle designed exclusively to transport rockets from various points of the facilities of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

As its name suggests, it has a caterpillar mechanism very similar to the one used in tanks, and its purpose is to maintain constant movement at all times.

caterpillar transport. (photo: NASA)
caterpillar transport. (photo: NASA)

This vehicle, on which a platform for transporting the rocket is mounted, follow a specially designed route, known as rail transportation, from the vehicle’s assembly plant to the SLS vehicle’s current location; 39B launcher.

In fact, NASA has been using tracked transport since before 1996, when the Saturn IB made its first flight. But the model that is currently working, and several SLS routes taken, is the Crawler-Transporter II.

The Crawler-Transporter II, considered the largest vehicle in the world, weighs some 2,721 tons and requires up to 30 operators to operate, although it is only controlled by one person. More precisely, Breanne Rohloff, At 24, she is the youngest woman to drive this car and the only one currently, according to Commercial Carrier Magazine.

Moving the Crawler-Transporter II was a difficult task, especially since speed and maneuvering were critical so that the spacecraft it was transporting would not suffer any damage.

caterpillar transport. (photo: NASA)
caterpillar transport. (photo: NASA)

Gigantic, slow and powerful

For example, for SLS transport, the maximum speed reached, according to Rohloff, is about a little over 1 km per hour.

To get an idea of ​​how slow it is, people walk 6 km from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39B, which would take about 40 minutes. Crawler-Transporter II takes about 10 hours.

The caterpillar transport, yes, has different systems that allow not only a better control of the vehicle, but also a safer transfer of the spacecraft it carries.

caterpillar transport. (photo: NASA)
caterpillar transport. (photo: NASA)

NASA has different laser systems, one for guidance and the other for levelling, They are responsible for keeping the platform in a horizontal position at all times. This is very important, especially bearing in mind that in some sections there is a slight slope.

Although it is a remarkably slow vehicle, it is extremely powerful. It has two 16-cylinder Alco diesel engines, regards of run up to 16 motors dedicated to traveling four ways. It also includes two 1500 kW Cummins diesel generators, which are responsible for running the rest of the elements of the Crawler-Transporter II.

As a curiosity, the caterpillar transport is followed by a special truck, like a kind of irrigation system, which is specialized in wetting the roads of gravel to avoid the dust generated by the destruction of the rocks by the giant wheels.

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