The 355-foot-tall Mobile Launcher, or ML, behaved as expected during its move to Launch Pad 39B in November 2011, an analysis of multiple sensors showed. The top of the tower swayed less than an inch each way. The tests showed that computer models used in designing the massive structure were correct. The actual results varied less than 5 percent of what was predicted.
"This gives us much higher confidence in the models," Brown said. "We know that our approach is valid."
Engineers had the tower wired with dozens of accelerometers and strain gauges along with wind sensors to record the launcher's movement during its slow ride atop a crawler-transporter from a park site beside the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pad. Crawler drivers performed several speed changes during the six-mile journeys to and from the pad. While at the pad, which is being refurbished after decades of hosting space shuttles, workers connected ventilation, fire support and alarm systems and other water lines.
"We were measuring milli-g's," Brown said.
The ML, designed for the Ares I rocket of the cancelled Constellation program, is due for major modifications in the coming few years as it is strengthened to support the much-heavier SLS. It took two years to build and was completed in August 2010. The ML is the biggest structure of its kind since the Launch Umbilical Towers were constructed to support the Apollo/Saturn V. Those towers saw numerous modifications through their lives as trial-and-error showed where changes were needed, Brown said.
"Our goal here is to have less of those kinds of problems," Brown said.