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New Crane Ready to Support New Ride for NASA’s Artemis II Mission

A new overhead crane is installed in the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at Kennedy Space Center.
Inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a new overhead crane is installed on March 10, 2021. The new hardware will be used to process Orion beginning with the agency’s first crewed mission, Artemis II. Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett

As we approach this new era in human spaceflight, Kennedy is making infrastructure upgrades to support Artemis program goals: landing the first woman and the next man on the Moon, paving the way for a sustainable presence on the lunar surface, and then on to Mars.

Built in the 1960s, the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building has served as the payload assembly and spacecraft testing facility from the Gemini to Artemis eras, readying flight components ahead of their launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Teams from American Crane and Equipment Corporation recently replaced the facility’s existing crane with a new crane that features greater lift capability and enhanced controls. Situated on the upper railings of the high bay, the O&C’s newest crane joins the family of two other cranes on the high bay’s lower railings. Its initial use will be in support of Artemis II, the program’s first crewed mission, lifting the Orion spacecraft after the crew and service modules have been mated.

The mighty cranes are poised to move Artemis flight elements from one end of the facility’s high bay to the other, among various test stands and to transport devices, which will take the components to their next processing destinations.

The new crane can lift 30 tons, and its enhanced controls and additional safety features allow for micro movements to within 1/100th of an inch. Its precision and capability will support the weight of the spacecraft during assembly as well as for altitude chamber testing. During the Apollo program, engineers used the O&C’s east chamber to test the Apollo crew and service modules, and they used the west chamber to test the lunar lander.

Beginning with the Artemis II crewed mission, the west chamber will be re-activated to test the spacecraft in a vacuum environment that simulates an altitude of up to 250,000 feet. The test allows engineers and technicians to ensure the capsule will not leak in space and to verify that systems, such as the crew module’s Environmental Control and Life Support System, remain intact to keep astronauts safe from the harsh environment of space.

The previous crane was used for the final time to hoist its replacement into place, lifting the new crane from floor level to the jacking rig. The retiring crane was then removed, and teams are preparing to decommission it in accordance with applicable state and federal environmental regulations.

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