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Shipping Container Fit-Check with C-17

In early August, 1996 the completed MGS spacecraft will be transported from the Lockheed-Martin Astronautics (LMA) design and assembly plant, located in Waterton, Colorado, to the Kennedy Space Center/Cape Canaveral Air Station (KSC/CCAS), located in Cape Canaveral, Florida, for integration with the McDonnell-Douglas 7925 Delta II launch vehicle. Traditionally, spacecraft have been driven this distance on a double-drop, air-ride tractor-trailer, while enclosed in an environmentally controlled shipping container. After accounting for weather delays and daylight hour travel restrictions for oversized loads, this journey can take from 4 to 9 days, as it did in the case of the Magellan spacecraft.

In order to reduce the risk associated with exposing the spacecraft to potentially bad weather, bad drivers, narrow roads, and low bridges, while increasing overall program schedule margin, the MGS spacecraft will be flown from Buckley Air National Guard Station (Denver, CO) to Cape Canaveral Air Station aboard an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III, the most advanced military airlift aircraft in the world. The entire spacecraft transportation operation, from leaving the clean room at LMA to arriving in the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF) at KSC, will take less than fourteen hours.

The MGS shipping container was originally designed for, and used by, the TOPEX/Poseidon spacecraft. As a result, container external dimensions and castor wheel diameter were not designed specifically for either the MGS spacecraft or the C-17 aircraft. To ensure that the LMA-KSC move operation will be successful, a wooden mock-up of the existing shipping container, dimensionally correct and complete with the actual jacks and castor wheels, was "fit-checked" into a C-17 aircraft located at the Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina. The shipping container mock-up was built by DCL Wood Products in Englewood, CO and was designed to be disassembled and shipped on two standard pallets, using conventional ground transportation.

The following slides show the sequence of events required to load the mock-up shipping container into C-17 aircraft. Completion of this fit-check validates the loading approach and leads the MGS project team to believe that this transportation approach will be successful.

Click on the small pictures to view a full-color JPEG image.


Although some hardware was left on the shipping dock in Colorado, real-time work-arounds were identified and the shipping container was successfully constructed. Air Force, Lockheed-Martin, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) personnel pose proudly beside their creation after a hard day's work. (51k JPEG)


An Air Force fork lift is used to move the shipping container from the assembly hangar to the C-17 flight line. A similar fork lift will be used at Buckley ANGS to lift the shipping container, with the MGS spacecraft inside, from the air-ride trailer and move it to the base of the C-17 loading ramp. (43k JPEG)


After aligning the shipping container with the C-17 aircraft, chains are attached to the winch attachment points. A remotely controlled centerline winch, powered by the aircraft, is used to pull the shipping container up the ramp. (43k JPEG)


Rear view of the container, ready for winching into the aircraft. Although lateral clearance is quite adequate, the vertical clearance was initially a concern, at least for some LMA/JPL personnel. (43k JPEG)


Side view of the container as it is winched up the ramp. Although no problems were encountered getting up on the ramp toes, larger diameter wheels would have been helpful later in the operation. (43k JPEG)


The transition from the ramp toes to the ramp has, in addition to a change in angle, a significant step (~1.8 in.) and gap (~2.0 in.). The relatively small container wheels had difficulty bridging this gap and, as a result of this fit-check, custom chocks are being designed and built. (51k JPEG)


Once on the ramp, the container is secured and aircraft hydraulic actuators are used to align the ramp with the aircraft floor. Insufficient clearance underneath the container mandates this approach. (51k JPEG)


The container is fully loaded up to the C-17 wing-box intrusion into the fuselage. In actual operation, the spacecraft will be loaded last, removed first, and will not be winched this far into the aircraft.(60k JPEG)


In order to investigate the vertical capabilities of the C-17 aircraft in the region of the wing box, the castor wheels were lowered slightly and the container moved even further forward. The fit-check was declared successful and unloading operations commenced. (51k JPEG)

Thanks to Mr. William Mateer for the description of the fit checks!

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