Super welding tools: A look at NASA's incredible Vertical Assembly Center:
Just as a painter admires another artist's artwork, a musician appreciates another composer's symphony, or a carpenter respects a finely put together mortise and tenon joint; a welder will cast his eye over a neat piece of metalwork, or appreciate a shiny new piece of equipment. We all do it, you do too, or you wouldn't be reading a welding blog! People may rib us for it, but it's only natural, our work is a big part of our lives. Now, talking of shiny new pieces of kit, how about the biggest and newest shiny piece of kit in the world? A few months ago, NASA revealed their unbelievable, state-of-the-art Vertical Assembly Center (VAC) at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.
The world's biggest spacecraft welding tool stands around 170 feet tall and 80 feet wide, and cost somewhere between 10 and 15 million dollars to build. The VAC is responsible for building the core stage of the Space Launch System (SLS), which will be the most powerful rocket the world has ever seen. The 200ft tall core stage will hold cryogenic liquid nitrogen, as well as liquid oxygen, which will fuel the main rocket's four huge engines.
As with anything NASA related, details on the structure, materials, and exact manufacturing procedures is pretty thin on the ground. What we do know is that the VAC, which has 23 flights of stairs built into it, is essentially a giant friction-stir-weld tool for wet and dry structures. The VAC will also be responsible for carrying out non-destructive evaluation protocols on completed welds, to ensure the finished product can take the huge strains it will be faced with.
Eventually the SLS will send crafts and their crews on missions into deep space. Of course, exact mission details are classified, but NASA have said that an asteroid and an attempt to land men on Mars are at the top of the agenda.
As with anything in the engineering industry, today's unbelievable tools eventually trickle down to become everyday objects. How long before welding on this scale simply becomes the norm?