Space Crossroads

Space Crossroads

You see several intersecting roads forming an oblique intersection. Ordinary dirt roads with pebble bedding. Around the typical countryside. To the left, in the distance, masts rise similar to the power lines of some local substation.

A closer look, however, reveals some strange details. For some reason, roads are laid in pairs, parallel to each other. One pair of roads consistently turns left to structures similar to power transmission towers. Two other roads go straight. Good but small asphalt roads have been laid next to dirt roads (usually the opposite: dirt roads run along the highway along which agricultural machinery moves so as not to break the asphalt pavement and prevent road vehicles from interfering with their slow speed). And on the masts of the power transmission lines, there are no noticeable cross-pieces for suspension of wires of the power line, nor garlands of insulators, nor the wires themselves.

At this unusual intersection, as if through the Looking Glass, everything is a little the other way around. Driving along these twin roads always takes place in the same direction: either along the front or both back. And the dirt roads are the main ones, and the asphalt strips on the side of them are technical and auxiliary. Indeed, wires are stretched between the high masts in the distance, and they are designed to transmit large electric power - but not to and from this substation. In general, this is not a substation.

In the second image, the intersection is visible from the surrounding perspective. On the right, at the very edge, another construction opens. An experienced eye distinguishes behind a bunch of pipes and structures a brown streamlined nose and next to it a white regular cone of smaller sizes. And then the situation begins to clear up. These paired dirt roads are really driven by tracked vehicles - NASA tracked transporter. . Because it is the territory of Kennedy Space Center , from where all American manned flights were made, starting with the lunar program. This is a separate unit of NASA ten kilometers north of the famous Cape Canaveral from which the first astronauts flew. The roads of the intersection were laid here a long time ago, more than half a century ago, and lead to two launch sites - LC-39A and LC-39B (mast constructions on the left side of the main photo). Starting complex LC-39 was built to launch the most powerful launch vehicle in history. Saturn 5-3-33262. , which led to the trajectory of the moon manned ships of the program Apollo .

Space Crossroads

In this photo, both launch pads are visible - LC-39B left and LC39A right . On the right platform you can see the shuttle Atlantis getting ready to start. Masts near the platform on the left, with wires taut between them - a lightning rod system. Photo © Nikolai Tsygikalo, July 12011

To emphasize the romance of space exploration, often use beautiful expressions like “on the dusty paths of distant planets ” (from the song “Fourteen minutes to start” , Which brought glory to the young Vladimir Voinovich ), “At space intersections ". But the real space crossroads you see in these pictures. I made them a week before the launch of the shuttle. Atlantis - the last launch of the program Space Shuttle July 82011.

Space Crossroads

Atlantis before the launch of the Space Shuttle. It is practically hidden behind maintenance structures. The white cone of the solid fuel accelerator fairing is visible to the left of the ginger outer oxygen-hydrogen tank. Upstairs, a 25-meter lightning rod mast whitens (in tropical 3-3-3325. Florida 3-3-33262. Thunderstorms are frequent). A large water tower and a white bubble of capacity with a thousand tons of water are visible behind the red tank. But this is not a fire system. This water is discharged when the shuttle engines are launched under the nozzles in order to reduce the acoustic load on the crew and structure and prevent them from being damaged by the sound field pressure at start-up. Photo © Nikolai Tsygikalo, July 12011

Both the giant Saturn 5110 meters high, and the sweeping composition of the Space Shuttle take-off complex were too large to tilt and rotate. Their assembly was not designed for power operations in a horizontal position: this would require a significant strengthening of their bodies with an increase in the mass of the structure. Therefore, they were assembled vertically, immediately in the starting position, in a huge 160-meter building of vertical assembly, on two-story mobile launching platforms (see Mobile launcher platform ). The platforms left over from the Saturn-5 launches continued to be used for shuttle launches after remodeling and modernization. The platforms are very heavy - 3700-odd tons, and the platform with a fully assembled unfilled Saturn-5 missile and a launch tower weighed a little more than 5700 tons. After assembly and completion of the full test cycle, a huge tracked conveyor drove up under the launch platform. He lifted the casing with hydraulic jacks and took on its "back" launching platform along with a vertical rocket or shuttle, and in this form transported them to one or another launching pad.

Space Crossroads

On the left is the caterpillar conveyor carries the take-off complex with the Atlantis shuttle, which stands on the launch platform on January 192001. Right - the conveyor brings the Saturn-5 launch vehicle to the launch pad on May 201969. In addition to the rocket, the launch platform has a launch cable-filling tower 120 m high. Inside it there are two elevators for lifting personnel to service platforms, stretching to the rocket at different heights, and moving between them. On the right is the dark smoke of the exhaust from the operation of the conveyor's diesel generators. Photo from the site

The tracked conveyor weighs 2400 tons and can carry cargo weighing 6000 tons - it is the largest and most load-carrying tracked vehicle in the world. From above, it looks like a large rectangle, on each corner of which there is a huge, twice as large as human height, tracked chassis of two caterpillars. He has no front and rear, he does not need to turn around. He can move equally well in both directions, and on each side he has a control cabin. Two transporters, each has its own name - one Hans, the other Franz, both born in 1965. They are the same and do the same job.

Space Crossroads

NASA Tracked Conveyor, left - top view, right - one of the cabs of the conveyor and two tracks of one chassis. To the right above the inner caterpillar you can see the gray hydraulic cylinders used to rotate this chassis. A path with a fence is laid along the edge of the entire building. Photo from the site

Two powerful diesel generators generate electricity, electric motors work in the caterpillar chassis, the caterpillars ring with a measured creak when the conveyor carries its vertical load on a mobile launch platform to the launch pad at a slow pedestrian speed (1.6 km /h or 40 cm /sec). Two left conveyor chassis, front and rear, go along the same dirt road, and two right chassis - along the second the road. The distance from the vertical assembly building to the nearest launch pad LC-39A - about 5.5 km - the conveyor overcomes in four hours.

Launching pads are located on bulk elevations. To each laid ramp - gently sloping embankment with a very small angle of elevation. But the giant 110-meter rocket and the Shuttle take-off complex cannot even be tilted. Therefore, the conveyor, rising along the embankment to the site, lifts the rear of the launch platform to its strictly horizontal position with hydraulic jacks and holds in two horizontal directions the entire ascent or descent (if it is necessary to return the product to the vertical assembly building due to malfunctions or weather conditions) along the slope of the platform.

Space Crossroads

Caterpillar conveyor carries the shuttle Discovery to the launch pad on June 152005. You can clearly see how horizontal the mobile launch platform is. On an inclined platform ramp, the conveyor lifted the platform above the rear chassis to its horizontal alignment, while maintaining movement. Photo from the site

Having driven along a very gentle ascent to the launch site, the conveyor accurately positioned the platform and lowered its jacks. A mobile launch platform with a rocket stood on special supports of the launch structure. Another transporter brought a huge service tower to the rocket, which provided personnel with access to all levels of the rocket during prelaunch preparations. Shortly before launch, the second conveyor took the service tower to the side, and the first left the mobile platform with a missile installed at the start. When delivering the Shuttles to the launch, the procedure was simplified: the rotary service facility did not require a second conveyor, and only one was needed for launch. After the main cargo was delivered to the launch pad, the conveyors returned to their parking lots, and after the launch they again drove to the launch pad to pick up the empty launch pad and deliver it back to the vertical assembly building.

Space Crossroads

NASA caterpillar in the parking lot. In the distance, a building of a vertical assembly with a height of 160 m rises, where 3-3-33229 were assembled. Saturn 3-3-33262. and Shuttles. The parking lot is halfway between it and the grounds. Photo © Nikolai Tsygikalo, July 12011

Let's go back to the roads on which the conveyor rides. Why was pebble chosen instead of concrete? The cosmodrome territory lies at sea level, covered by lakes, which in some places approach roads. Concrete slabs due to the gradual subsidence of marshy soils under the periodic application of a huge load of conveyors will begin to crack, sag. The resulting lowering of the canvas affects the position of the load, you need to fix the coating quickly because of the busy schedule of starts. Therefore, it is easier and faster to level the soil. The coating of rounded pebbles is movably and constantly ironed during each conveyor trip, being trimmed. With a smooth carpet, it is well mated to the wide tracks of the conveyor. Rust on caterpillars only enhances adhesion to pebbles.

Space Crossroads

Pebbled coating of a space road near, not far from a vertical assembly building. Pebbles the size of a chicken egg to an apple, with the same variation in shape and color. For huge conveyor tracks, this is sand. Photo © Nikolai Tsygikalo, July 12011

After completing flights under the Space Shuttle program, transporters rest. But the mega-quadrotractors were not retired and did not become exhibits, but remained in service (they are serviced and upgraded from time to time) and will soon continue their usual work. From the launch pad 39B, which is empty in these pictures, it is soon planned to launch a new giant rocket Space Launch System (space launch system), also created for manned flights to the moon. So the space crossroads will soon come to life with the low roar of engines, crushed by the crunch of pebbles and the creak of giant caterpillars.

Photo © Nikolay Tsygikalo, July 12011.

Nikolai Tsygikalo

22 май 2020 /
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