Rigging company helps space shuttle get a safe start

As the space shuttle returned from its 13-day, 5-million-mile journey July 17, congratulations were in order for not only the astronauts and engineers of the mission, but also for Barnhart Crane and Rigging, which won an award for aiding NASA in lifting and securing launch pad A’s rotating service structure.

Barnhart, based in Daphne, Ala., won first place in the jobs over $750,000 category of the Rigging Job of the Year awards given by the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association. NASA chose Barnhart for the project after considering several companies from around the world, including a company based in Italy.

“Barnhart was one of the final three competitors, and we were chosen based on our methods,” said Shaun Sipe, regional director for Barnhart. “There are only a handful of companies that can do what we did for NASA.”

The company specializes in engineered heavy rigging, typically hauling and securing large vessels for nuclear plants. But Sipe said he knew working with NASA would be beneficial for Barnhart.

“It was a very high profile project and very successful,” Sipe said. “Not only from the project management standpoint, but also as the industry recognized us.”

NASA contracted with Barnhart to lift and secure the rotating service structure so NASA could repair and reinforce a deflection in launch pad A. The sag resulted from years of corrosion and heavy equipment additions.

The service structure was made to swing around and cover up the shuttle, and is used to deliver payload and equipment to it, Sipe explained.

Jeff Latture, senior vice president of Barnhart, said the fixed launch structure and the rotating structure are both part of launch pad A. NASA has two launch pads, and used launch pad A for its most recent mission.

The rotating service structure is located on top of the launch pad. NASA gave Barnhart’s engineering team six jacking locations for the rotating structure. Sipe said each location had predetermined loads, so there were different amounts of force to apply at each.

“We actually had to build a piece of equipment,” Sipe said. “The six jacks were on two different floors – it looked like a stair step, with a 21-foot difference between the jacking points of the two floors.”

After the Barnhart team built its system on the launch pad, it lifted the rotating service structure and rotated it over the top of the Barnhart structure. Sipe said the rotating service structure could roll within 120 degrees over the launch pad, which made it easier to position. “After the RSS made it over the top, we lifted and secured the structure for two months,” Sipe said.

Four months of planning went into the project, which took only two weeks to complete. Weather interfered occasionally, and Sipe said lightening storms caused the job to be shut down a few days. The team also had to be wary of high winds.

“It was much harder to get the structure set up and secure than to take it down,” Sipe said. “But of course, repetition helps you learn to do things quicker.”