NASA Missile Crawler Transporter Facilities


The NASA Missile Crawler Transporters, formally known as the Missile Crawler Transporter Facilities, are a pair of tracked vehicles used to transport spacecraft from NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) along the Crawlerway to Launch Complex 39. Originally used to transport the Saturn IB and Saturn V rockets during the Apollo, Skylab and Apollo–Soyuz programs, the crawler were then used to transport Space Shuttles from 1981 to 2011. After the crawlers carry vehicles on the mobile launcher platforms used by NASA, and after each launch return to the pad to take the platform back to the VAB.

According to NASA, the crawler was designed to travel two miles per hour unloaded but has not been tested to speed, with the loaded speed of 1 mph as the top speed. To date, CT-2 has traveled 2,365 miles, which is not even be long enough to get the CT-2 about 80% of the way from one side of US Interstate 90, which is the longest US interstate. US Interstate 90 runs a bit over 3,000 miles from Seattle to Boston. The two crawler-transporters were designed and built by Marion Power Shovel Company using components designed and built by Rockwell International at a cost of $14 million each. Upon its construction, the crawler-transporter became the largest self-powered land vehicle in the world. The two crawler-transporters were added to the National Register of Historic Places on January 21, 2000.

Here are some interesting facts provided by NASA:

  • Weight: Approximately 6.6 million pounds (or the weight of about 15 Statues of Liberty or 1,000 pickup trucks).
  • Height: Varies from approximately 20 feet to 26 feet, based on the position of the jacking, equalization and leveling cylinders.
  • Load Capacity: Able to transport 18 million pounds (or the weight of more than 20 fully loaded 777 airplanes).

After upgrades in 2003, the crawler’s tanks could hold 19,000 liters (5,000 U.S. gal) of diesel fuel, which would burn 125.7 U.S. gallon per mile. This means that the 160 mile drive from the Portland Airport to Seattle airport would burn approximately 20,112 gallons, which is roughly 3% of the total volume that would fit inside an olympic size swimming pool. Another way to frame this is that if the NASA crawlers drove the pre pandemic average of 13,500 miles per American does per year, the total fuel that would be required would be equivalent to 2.57 olympic size swimming pools

There are a total of 2 crawlers that NASA has used to transport rockets to the launchpad, which started in a similar vain, but have taken different paths as a result of which launch providers are using Kennedy Space Center launchpads.

Crawler-Transporter 2

NASA plans to use crawler-transporter 2 to transport the Space Launch System with the Orion spacecraft atop it from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39B for the Artemis missions. With NASA recently performing a test rollout of the Artemis 1 Space Launch System and Orion, this was the first time one of the crawler transporters rolled a launch vehicle to the launch pad since STS-135.

Crawler-Transporter 1

NASA had originally planned for crawler-transporter 1 to be used by commercial launch vehicles, as  Northrop Grumman has originally planned to use CT-1 to transport their OmegA from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39B. However, Northrop Grumman lost the National Security Space Launch contract to United Launch Alliance and SpaceX. Therefore, with no commercial launch providers willing to use CT-1 at this time, the future of vehicle remains uncertain.

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