by Patrick L. Barry
|Giant Deep Space Network antenna in Madrid is moved using four 12-axle, 24-wheel crawlers. (Click here for larger image.)|
To move the Madrid dish, NASA called in a company from the Netherlands named Mammoet, which specializes in moving massive objects. (Mammoet is the Dutch word for “mammoth.”)
On a clear day (bad weather might blow the dish over!), they began to slowly lift the dish. Hydraulic jacks at all four corners gradually raised the entire dish to a height of about 4.5 feet. Then Mammoet engineers positioned specialized crawlers under each corner. Each crawler looks like a mix between a flatbed trailer and a centipede: a flat, load-bearing surface supported by 24 wheels on 12 independently rotating axes, giving each crawler a maximum load of 194 tons!
One engineer took the master joystick and steered the whole package in its slow crawl to the new pad, never exceeding the glacial speed of 3 feet per minute. The four crawlers automatically stayed aligned with each other, and their independently suspended wheels compensated for unevenness in the ground.
Placement on the new pad had to be perfect, and the alignment was tested with a laser. To position the dish, believe it or not, Mammoet engineers simply followed a length of string tied to the pad’s center pivot where the dish was gently lowered.
It worked. So much for “impossible.”
Find out more about the DSN at http://deepspace.jpl.nasa.gov/dsn/ . Kids can learn about the amazing DSN antennas and make their own “Super Sound Cone” at The Space Place, http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/en/kids/tmodact.shtml.