michoud

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     Number 15, the last of it’s type ever made. The Apollo Saturn V Moon rocket was comprised of three stages. This first stage, referred to as the S-IC, was the most powerful section of the rocket. S-IC-15 was built with the intention of a Moon mission, but was ultimately used as a backup for the Skylab Space Station launcher.

     Once number 15 was completed, it marked the end of the Apollo era at NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where she was built, and where she proudly stands today. I was recently able to take a behind the scenes tour of Michoud for Project Habu, and photographed her up close.

     While I was photographing, a number of dragonflies were flitting about around me. One was gracious enough to momentarily pose for me on a barbed wire fence near the rocket. It was an opportunity to capture two incredible flying machines together. It’s amazing how far we’ve come in the last century, from looking at flying animals and dreaming about putting ourselves in the air, to riding atop a column of 7.5 million pounds of thrust, bound for the Moon.

Jurassic World filming at NASA facility?

Jurassic Connected has found a photo posted by a Jurassic World background actor at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, claiming a portion of the movie is being shot there. 

The facility is one of the largest manufacturing plants in the world, and is a multi-tenant complex with both government and commercial contracts – among them an agreement between NASA and film studios to rent out a portion of the facility for movie productions: scenes from Ender’s Game, GI Joe Retaliation, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes have been shot at the facility.

Perhaps one of their production areas is being shot to serve as a dinosaur lab in Jurassic World?  Or maybe one their buildings is standing in for a Visitors Center or other structure in the film.

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     Project Habu recently had the honor of touring behind the scenes at NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana. All of the Space Shuttle External Fuel Tanks were manufactured at this site, including this tank, ET-94, the last remaining fully assembled External Tank.

     During launch, the external tank contains liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants, which are stored at −182.8 °C and −252.8 °C respectively. One of the systems in place to maintain this cryogenic temperature is the thermal protection system surrounding the tank; the orange foam that gives the tank it’s distinctive look.

     You may ask, why didn’t ET-94 fly? Some light may be shed on the subject when you learn that the tank made before this one, ET-93, flew on STS-107; the final, disastrous flight of Columbia.

     Through the whole 8.5 minute duration of launch, this external tank feeds its cryogenic propellants to the orbiter’s three main engines. Then, it drops away from the orbiter to disintegrate in the atmosphere. During that 8.5 minute ride uphill, the tank is subject to extreme vibration. During the launch of STS-107, a piece of thermal protection foam shed itself from ET-93, and struck the leading edge of the orbiter’s wing, putting a basketball sized hole in a reinforced carbon-carbon panel, exposing the vulnerable internal structure of the orbiter to the vacuum of space. Days later, during reentry, superheated plasma was allowed to enter the structure of the wing, impinging upon key structural elements of the orbiter, causing a breakup, and the ultimate loss of Space Shuttle Columbia and her crew.

     During the accident, ET-94 was at Kennedy Space Center, in the vertical assembly building, being readied for the next mission. ET-94 was shipped back to Michoud, then dissected and studied in an effort to learn how to prevent future foam strikes. ET-94 never flew, but she played an extremely important role in enabling a safe return to flight.

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     NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana is busy at work fabricating the USA’s future deep space exploration system. Robotic Weld Tool 2 (shown in the second and third photos) uses friction stir welding to build the hull of the Orion Spacecraft. The piece in the tool is the Orion Confidence Article which underwent testing to insure that the tool and manufacturing processes were ready for operation. At the time this photo was taken, June 30, 20, this machine had welded the hull for the Confidence Article, Ground Test Article (GTA) and Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), which flew successfully on December 5, 2014.

     One of the most leveraged pieces of government property is in use at Michoud; a 1943 metal roller (photo four). The roller was first used in WWII, then built parts for the first stage of the Saturn V Rocket and every Space Shuttle External Tank. The Michoud Machine Shop also houses a press (photo five) adorned with mission patches from each shuttle mission that it served. Now, it is used to bend barrel panels for the SLS core stage propellant tanks. One of these barrel panels rests in front of an oven used for heat treating (photo six). This particular barrel panel is another confidence article.

     The Final Assembly Area (photo seven) is just a small portion of building 103, which houses 42 climate controlled acres under one roof. This enormous facility will continue to build equipment that executes the hopes and dreams of the people on Planet Earth. Big thanks to NASA for allowing Project Habu access to Michoud Assembly Facility.

Welding Begins on Orion Pathfinder

New Orleans LA (SPX) May 12, 2015
On May 7, engineers at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans began welding together the first pieces of the structure of the Orion crew module pathfinder. This pathfinder is a full-scale version of the current spacecraft design. It is used to demonstrate the manufacturing and assembly procedures that will be used to produce the actual flight hardware. Using a pathfinder allows en
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     NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana, is a true rocket factory. Here, they start with raw, unfinished aluminium and end with launch vehicles. The S-IC first stage of the Saturn V Moon rocket and the Space Shuttle external tanks were assembled here. Now, new machinery is housed under the 43 acre indoor facility, busily manufacturing the core stage of the new Space Launch System (SLS). 

     In the first photo, you see a series of robotic friction-stir-welders used to manufacture fore and aft dome sections of the SLS core stage cryogenic propellant tank. The second photo displays the Gore Weld Tool, used to join curved panels of aluminium together into whole domes. The Circumferential Dome Weld Tool, shown in the third and fourth photos, fixes the completed dome section to a ring. One such ring may be viewed in a previous post (click here to view). Next, the dome travels to the Plug Weld Tool, shown in the fifth and sixth photos. This tool fills a hole left by the friction-stir-welding process. The domes shown in these photos are not flight articles. Rather, they are confidence pieces which undergo testing to prove that this method of manufacture works.

     The cryogenic propellant tank of the SLS core stage is the same diameter as the shuttle external tank, which is no accident. This allows Michoud to reuse infrastructure. Photos eight and nine show barrel panel sections on a storage rack formerly used on the shuttle program. These panels are welded together to form a complete barrel using the Vertical Weld Center, which I covered in a previous post (click here to view). Several complete barrel section confidence articles are shown in the final photo.

     These photographs show the facility as it was on June 30, 2014. I must thank NASA Michoud Assembly Facility for allowing Project Habu to tour these components up close and personal.

Welding Begins on Orion Pathfinder

New Orleans LA (SPX) May 12, 2015
On May 7, engineers at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans began welding together the first pieces of the structure of the Orion crew module pathfinder. This pathfinder is a full-scale version of the current spacecraft design. It is used to demonstrate the manufacturing and assembly procedures that will be used to produce the actual flight hardware. Using a pathfinder allows en

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     The Space Shuttle External Tank can be broken down into three main parts; a small tank holding liquid oxygen (LOX), a larger tank holding liquid hydrogen (LH2) and an intertank which joins the two sections together.

     The LH2 tank shown in the photos is an early construction called the Ground Vibration Test Article (GVTA). This tank was fully assembled along with the LOX and intertank sections, and mated to the Pathfinder Orbiter (shown in a previous post, click here to view). This arrangement was placed inside the Dynamic Test Stand at NASA Marshall Space flight Center (shown in a previous post, click here to view) to test how the orbiter fit in the stand, which had just been expanded for the size of the shuttle. Then, the GVTA was mated to the Enterprise orbiter, and vibrated for hours to simulate launch.

     The GVTA is now stored at NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana. I covered the LOX GVTA in a previous post (click here to view)

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     On June 30, Project Habu was honored to take a tour of the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana, which is not typically something that is open to the public. I started my journey by entering the badging office and getting my credentials. The first photo shows a plaque in front of the badging office.

     Nearly all the S-IC first stages of the Saturn V rocket were manufactured at Michoud. Photo two shows the Apollo Dock, which was used for loading the enormous rocket stage onto a barge. The barge would transport the rocket to Stennis Space Center for static testing on the B1/B2 test stand, shown in a previous post (click here to view). Then, the stage would be barged to Kennedy Space Center, and assembled along with the rest of the rocket in the Vehicle Assembly Building. Most recently, the Apollo Dock was used as a storage place for the Deep Horizon blowout preventer, which malfunctioned and was partly to blame for the 2012 BP oil spill disaster. The blowout preventer made landfall on this dock, and was examined by countless lawyers for weeks.

     The Shuttle External Tanks were manufactured at Michoud, and had to be loaded on their barges via the External Tank Dock, shown in the third photo. This dock is larger than the Apollo Dock, but does not bear as much weight, because the External Tanks were much lighter than the S-IC first stage. The External Tanks were loaded on NASA’s Pegasus Barge, transported by commercial tugs to Gulfport, Mississippi, (which is where I happened to live for the last year). At Gulfport, the Pegasus Barge would be handed over to one of NASA’s SRB recovery ships, Freedom Star or Liberty Star, and transported to Kennedy Space Center to prepare for launch.

     Photos four and five display the Space Shuttle Liquid Hydrogen Tank Pneumatic Testing facility. In this building, technicians would pressurize a shuttle Liquid Hydrogen Tank, and submit it to static loads for 16 hours. During this test, technicians were forced to stay inside a bunker, shown in photo five, to protect them from a catastrophic failure (i.e. kaboom). The building, shown in photo four, was constructed to separate in panel sections in case of an explosion. This would prevent dangerous shrapnel from traveling across the facility, and into New Orleans. Of course, this never happened; however, this building did suffer major damage during Hurricane Katrina, because of this construction.

     On May 24, 1988, TACA Airlines Flight 110 was just starting its descent into New Orleans, from Belize, when the 737-300 hit unexpected thunderstorms and hail up to 1” in diameter. The aircraft throttled to idle to descend, which allowed hail to build up in the core of the engine. Then the melting ice exceeded the water ingestion limit for the CFM-56 engines, causing both engines to stop. A windmill restart was attempted, but a hot start occurred, and both engines overheated, permanently shutting down. Captain Carlos Dardano saved the 45 souls aboard, slipping into a perfect deadstick landing in the grassy meadow shown in the sixth photo. This was the first time a 737 performed a safe deadstick landing outside of an airport.

     The decision was made to fly the aircraft off of the property using the former Michoud Factory Airfield runway, which had been converted to a road, shown in the seventh photo. The right engine was replaced, and the left engine was overhauled. The aircraft was gutted to reduce weight, and minimally fueled. Test pilots brought her into the air, and landed at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. This accident led to modifications in the CFM-56 engine design, improving hail deflection, and water bleed time. The aircraft involved in the emergency was back in service in less than a month.

     Photo eight displays scaffolding used with Shuttle External Tank construction.

     The building in the final photo was used for F-1 engine cold flow testing, and is now used for structural testing for the Orion Capsule hull, which is built at this facility.

Welding Begins on Orion Pathfinder

New Orleans LA (SPX) May 12, 2015
On May 7, engineers at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans began welding together the first pieces of the structure of the Orion crew module pathfinder. This pathfinder is a full-scale version of the current spacecraft design. It is used to demonstrate the manufacturing and assembly procedures that will be used to produce the actual flight hardware. Using a pathfinder allows en

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