All those massive rocket parts are manufactured in Vehicle Assembly Buildings (VAB) and are then, moved to the Launch Complex. But how are they transferred to the launchpad?
Nope! They are not just lifted and shifted to the launchpad. They are in fact assembled on top of mobile launch platforms. A lot of people assume that the Launchpad is a fixed installation when in fact it is a giant flame trench over which the mobile launch platform is affixed at launch time. A flame trench is a big hole that is used to deflect the rocket fire initially, so it doesn’t damage the vehicle.
At launch time, the mobile launcher along with the assembled rocket is transported to the launch site. The crawler-transporters help to achieve this shifting. Here is how they look:
The crawler-transporters are a pair of tracked vehicles that transport spacecraft from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), moving along the Crawlerway, to the launch complex. They were built in 1965 to move the Saturn V moon rocket from Kennedy’s Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Complex 39. After the Apollo, Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz programs it has been nearly 40 years that the crawlers have carried space shuttles to launch pads.
Each of the crawlers is the size of a baseball infield. Powered by the locomotive and large electrical power generators, they are unique as they are the biggest self-powered land vehicles in the world. They are designed to roll underneath a launch platform, pick it up and carry it for miles to the launch pads. The crawlers use their hydraulic suspension to keep them steady while they roll over to the launchpad which is built on top of a sloping pyramid.
The crawlers are critical elements of the future launch operations. One of them will continue to take commercially operated rockets and spacecraft to launchpad while the other one will be strengthened to handle the Space Launch System (SLS). The crawlers were originally designed for the Saturn V, but the SLS is a rocket and launch tower combination much heavier than those moon rockets.
What are your views regarding the transport of these massive rockets? Comment below!