Create a free Industrial Equipment News account to continue

NASA's Unique Building Requires Some Unique Tools

These are not the tools that you'll find in any ordinary toolbox.

A spreader bar weighing thousands of pounds and a wrench that is nearly four feet long are not the usual type of equipment you would carry in a toolbox or store in your garage.

But they are among the larger-than-life specialized tools that are used by technicians and construction workers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to prepare and install the giant work platforms in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft.

In High Bay 3 of the VAB, 10 levels of work platforms, 20 platform halves altogether, will surround the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft and provide access to process and prepare them for launch to deep-space destinations, such as the journey to Mars. Two sets of work platforms, the K-level and J-level platforms, recently were installed in the high bay, about 86 feet and 112 feet above the VAB floor, respectively.

During one of the platform installations, Allen List, an iron and rig foreman with S&R Enterprises of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a subcontractor to VAB general contractor Hensel Phelps, handled the 50-pound, nearly four-foot-long wrench like a pro as he turned and tightened the large corbel pin locks, or rail bolts, that will keep the platform securely fastened to the structural steel of the high bay.

Along with the wrench, he also wore a tool belt that weighs about 45 to 50 pounds, plus the tether system that all of the construction workers are required to use when performing tasks above the ground level.

“This is a unique building, and the work we are doing requires some unique tools,” List said. “This wrench is very hard to use. It requires two hands to turn it to tighten bolts.”

Tools such as the wrench and long pry bars were acquired from an industrial tool supplier, but Hensel Phelps and the architect of record, Reynolds, Smith and Hills, created several of the unusual tools specifically for the VAB work project.

“Some tools, like wrenches or pliers, have the same name as those you would find at other construction sites. The difference is the scale of the tools at Kennedy are much bigger,” said Rebecca Baturin, VAB project engineer with the Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) Program.

Another gigantic tool that definitely would not fit in your garage is the Tandemloc spreader bar. This bar is attached to the crane rigging to safely help lift the work platforms during installation. The spreader bar weighs 31,000 pounds, and is 50 feet long and 26 inches in diameter. Another set of Tandemloc bars are 25 feet long and 14 inches in diameter and are used as rigging, or support equipment, in conjunction with the main spreader bar for lifting the platforms in place.

A set of Corbel spreader beams, each weighing 11,000 pounds and measuring 70 feet long and 16 inches in diameter, are bolted directly to the front and rear of the platform halves to keep them level and aligned as they are lifted and installed in the high bay. At the end of each Corbel spreader is a 50-ton portable hydraulic jack that can be used to adjust the alignment.

Tools called Hydra sets are a load positioning system that was used during the Space Shuttle Program for lifting flight hardware. The 31,000-pound tools are being repurposed because they provide precise vertical control of heavy loads in tight configurations, such as the large work platforms. During a platform lift, they are suspended between the crane rigging and the platform to enable each corner of the crane rigging to be independently adjusted to keep the platform level.   

“It would not be possible to install the platform halves accurately without the Corbel spreader beams and Hydra Sets. It would not be possible to even lift a platform half without the crane rigging and Tandemloc bars,” Baturin said.

Multi-wheeled, heavy-duty transporters, called Goldhofers, move the platform halves from the VAB west parking lot staging area into the VAB transfer aisle.

“It’s an honor to help contribute to NASA’s space program,” List said. “Nowhere else in the country would we have the opportunity to contribute to something like the work we are doing in the Vehicle Assembly Building. This is a very exciting time.”

Whether it is with a 4-foot wrench or a 15-ton spreader bar, Kennedy Space Center is well on its way to preparing the VAB High Bay 3 for the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft and the agency’s journey to Mars.

More in Operations