Space Launch System Facility Modifications March Forward

In this before and after photo, Cells B and C in Building 110 have been completely removed. The space is being prepared for the installation of the Vertical Assembly Center, which will be the world’s largest friction stir weld machine.

Michoud Assembly Facility modifications continue to make progress in support of requirements for NASA’s Space Launch System, or SLS. Multiple projects are scheduled through 2014. Major facility modification and construction projects are scheduled in Buildings 103, 110, 114, 115, 131 and 451.


Photo: In this before and after photo, Cells B and C in Building 110 have been completely removed. The space is being prepared for the installation of the Vertical Assembly Center, which will be the world’s largest friction stir weld machine. (NASA/Michoud Assembly Facility)


In Building 103, Michoud’s main manufacturing building encompassing 42 acres under it’s roof, work to modify the Robotic Weld Tool 3 is steadily progressing. Scheduled for completion by May, the tool will be used to make dome components for SLS, and will be known as the Enhanced Robotic Weld Tool. Meanwhile at a location right off of the main aisle in the center of the building, substantial progress has been made on the segmented ring tool installation. Over the course of a week, what started out as an empty floor has grown into a circle of steel monuments and control boxes dedicated to fabricating L and Y rings for the SLS rocket. These rings are used to make barrel-to-barrel and dome-to-barrel connections within the SLS rocket’s structure. The tooling installation work should be wrapped up in March with test and checkout procedures to follow immediately.


In Building 115, a high-bay manufacturing building originally intended for use on the Constellation Program, weld tooling is being installed for making the barrel components for SLS. Known as the Vertical Weld Center, the friction-stir-weld tool will stand about three stories tall once fully assembled. The work is scheduled for completion in June.


In Building 110, the demolition work on Cells B and C has wrapped up with an excellent safety record. During the Shuttle program, these cells were used to apply large sections of foam insulation to the external tank. With the last section of concrete removed on Jan. 21, site preparations are being made for the installation of the Vertical Assembly Center. The VAC is where dome assemblies, and the tank barrel sections will be joined together to complete the tanks or dry structure assemblies. The tool also will perform nondestructive evaluation on the completed welds. Once installed, this tool will be the largest of it’s kind in the world. The work is scheduled for completion in March 2014.


Building 131 will undergo major modifications. Originally, this building was used for the cleaning and primer application for the Shuttle’s external tank. The building will now be used for the application of the thermal protection system to the SLS rocket. Scheduled to begin in February, the roofline will be extended north to accommodate the SLS’s large size. This requires breaking up the tarmac in front of the building and adding to the existing foundation.


Building 451 will receive a modification similar to building 131, with the roofline and foundation being extended to cover the liquid hydrogen tank. The building will continue to be used for proof-testing SLS components. The “beer can,” a barrel-shaped structure for holding the external tank in place during testing, already has been removed from the test tool in preparation for SLS modifications.



STS-134 Mission Specialists Visit Michoud Assembly Facility

STS-134 Mission Specialists Greg Chamitoff and Mike Fincke visited Michoud Assembly Facility July 19 to thank workers for a great external tank, ET-122.  The astronauts also took time to sit down with two 11-year-old Zachary students from Copper Mill Elementary. Fifth graders Alexis Albert and Leanne Sorrel were part of teacher Circe Bridges’ team whose science experiment was chosen last year by a national space education group for a place on the Space Shuttle Endeavor’s final flight. The students’ experiment asked, “How does microgravity affect the development of murine myoblasts?” The other fifth-grade team members, who were not able to attend the event, were Grace Dry, Madison Russell, Tyler Jackson and Jake O’Brien.

Picturedleft to right:  Astronaut Greg Chamitoff, students Leanne Sorrel andAlexis Albert, and Astronaut Mike Fincke. (Jacobs)

X Marks the Spot

Scientists from the Louisiana State University (LSU) Louisiana Spatial Reference Center recently installed one of two GPS stations at the Michoud Assembly Facility.  The stations represent how LSU, NASA, the  National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and the private sector, have come together to harness space technology to make New Orleans a safer and more prosperous place to live and work. One of the stations, called “Moon,” uses signals from over 35 American and Russian satellites to determine its position so accurately it is being used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build hurricane protection levees that protect the city. Homeowners will benefit because surveyors can use the publicly available data from “Moon” to prepare FEMA flood certificates that are both accurate and inexpensive. In fact, the stations at Michoud will benefit all people living throughout the state because these stations strengthen  the backbone of the official positioning system of the state, the LSU GULFNET system.

Roy Dokka, left, and Randy Osborne, right, from the Louisiana Spatial Reference Center install the first of two GPS Survey Bench Marks at the Michoud Deep Well. Image credit: Jacobs Technology

Letters from Leadership

On Sept 11, two major components of the Deep Water Horizon Mishap Investigation arrived at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) opening a new chapter on NASA’s support to other federal agencies. All those following the aftermath of the BP mishap now turned their eyes to MAF.

We faced four monumental tasks. First, we had to plan, develop and implement critical lifts to move the components from their transport; these lifts were far larger than anything previously attempted by MAF personnel. Next, we needed to construct a test structure on which the components could be mounted and testing performed. Third, we had to accomplish these tasks safely with no incident or impact to any personnel or the environment. Finally, we needed to coordinate simultaneously with the U.S. Coast Guard, FBI, Department of Justice, commercial marine barge crews and tugboat crews.

Our skills and diplomacy were pushed to the limits as we worked with numerous agencies and personnel unfamiliar with NASA safety standards. However, working side by side with all the agencies, each quickly saw the value in our professional, well-trained and highly disciplined crews who focus on safely performing an operation as the key to all success. MAF crews conducted several flawless critical lifts without the slightest incident which clearly impressed the other members of the team. Our Environmental crew took the initiative to address the potential leaks and residue on the components to prevent any harm to our waterways or shoreline.

This event demonstrated how teams focused on safety, working together, sharing ideas and clearly communicating expectations can be successful. The Michoud team was able to provide the stellar teamwork vital to accomplishing these difficult tasks and exemplified flawless performance to the watching world. Well done to all!

 – Stephen A. Turner
NASA Manager of Safety, Mission Assurance and Protective Services

Letters from Leadership

As I read this newsletter I am reminded of the precision of our name, Michoud Assembly Facility Operations, and the intrinsic importance of the work we do. I enjoy this reminder. I know that I need this reminder, and I don’t think I am alone in this. By week’s end, I occasionally wonder what was really accomplished, why do what we do, what is better now than before and what will be better in the future? Without a consistent recorder of achievement, pride and success like the Messenger, our everyday work that demands unwavering dedication and passion could become “just a job.” Unless we step back from our day-to-day activities to reflect on the historic nature of the extraordinary products and services that we support, we risk becoming insensitive to the elite nature of our work and our inherent responsibilities as industry leaders.

I remember when Dr. Michael Griffin, previous NASA Administrator, accepted the 2007 Quasar Award for economic development excellence. His economics-centric acceptance speech was somewhat NASA/Space Program specific, but his ideas on “acceptable reasons” and “real reasons” for space related expenditures offer a compelling answer to any question of why we pursue technological advances. He specified these “real reasons” as our desire to compete, our sense of human curiosity, our wonder and awe at the unknown and the unending quest for knowledge. Dr. Griffin referenced Norman Mailer’s book “Of a Fire on the Moon,” to highlight the kind of people who recognize the importance, power and majesty of a technological event; people who engage in such things; people like us.

As you read The Messenger, step back and consider for a minute the broader influence of the work we do. Think about the enduring benefit to humankind from the Michoud Assembly Facility, from our contributions, from all the associated companies and people providing their individual support to the history of space exploration, fusion energy research, transportation, infrastructure, biotechnology and the environment. Realize the magnitude of all of this and take pride that 100, 500 or 1,000 years from now, the world will be better, in part, because of what we are involved in today.

Pat Campbell
Jacobs Vice President and Deputy General
Michoud Assembly Facility

We've All Got to Keep Our Eyes on the Ball!

Spaceflight is among the most demanding of all human endeavors. It is intolerant of mistakes and errors. In order for a rocket to get into low Earth orbit, in slightly more than 500 seconds, it must go from a standing stop… bolted to a launch pad on the ground… to 17,500 mph (25 times the speed of sound), over 100 miles high. Acceleration like this requires the controlled release of huge amounts of energy… rates of energy release that would make a top fuel dragster look like a kiddie car!

And that’s where the danger and the challenges lie. Even the tiniest of mistakes can have huge consequences: a slightly contaminated bonding surface; a barely visible part misalignment; even the smallest “off-ratio” mixture of a two-part material can directly lead to catastrophic consequences.

There has seldom been a time of greater uncertainty in NASA’s history: Will shuttle really end as planned? Will the next launch vehicle really be canceled? What does the future hold for human spaceflight ? All great questions… but all are huge sources of distraction.

In these turbulent times, we’ve ALL got to stay completely focused on our assigned tasks and not lose our concentration. Now, perhaps more than ever, we’ve ALL got to keep our eyes on the ball!

Our astronauts and our nation expect nothing less.

John Chapman
NASA External Tank Project Manager
Marshall Space Flight Center

Letters from Leadership

NASA’s recent budget announcements have gotten everyone’s attention. As we watch the ensuing debate in Congress, it’s easy to get distracted about MAF’s future. I believe MAF is positioned perfectly to take advantage of the current environment. With NASA’s guidance, Jacobs has developed competitive pricing and streamlined approval processes unique in the agency. We have developed a strong relationship with the State of Louisiana, with MAF being the State’s preferred site for numerous potential projects. This puts us in a position to attract business because we add value through efficient responsive support, phenomenal facilities and a highly-skilled work force.  The end result: NASA retains its only large advanced manufacturing capability for future programs while we help new tenants grow.

We are actively marketing MAF to a wide range of new tenants including companies engaged in engineering, military and space hardware, advanced manufacturing, film production and clean energy. In addition, some of our best potential areas of near term growth are with the global aerospace leaders we already host at MAF. We seek to encourage and enable Lockheed Martin and Boeing to grow their MAF operations by providing low cost, responsive services and capability to meet their needs. The same holds true for the critical USDA and US Coast Guard operations at MAF.

To date our successes are small in size, but large in stature.  Geocent, a local high tech business, recently leased space in Building 350 to perform one of its Navy contracts. This is new revenue to operate and maintain the site. Lockheed also terminated a commercial real estate lease and moved its Advanced Program group into Building 102/103, indicating the environment on site is improving. These early successes will be added to in the near future as we let people know about MAF and our work force.

New business is important, but successfully attracting new business will not matter if we don’t keep our focus on flawless delivery of three more external tanks, Orion Ground Test Article progress and major construction activity for upper stage. Proven performance and safe operations are absolutely vital to our ability to attract companies to MAF. Stay safe and remember a perfect safety record not only means we send everyone home in as good or better shape as when they came to work, it also means we can attract more tenants because a safe workplace is good for business.

Mike Dawson
Jacobs GM

Letters from Leadership

Michoud Assembly Facility has a rich history and has made strong contributions to the human space flight program over the years. From the Saturn booster to the external tank, MAF workers have been at the center of NASA’s efforts to send astronauts into space. Whatever direction the current administration decides to go, Michoud will no doubt play a big role in the future of NASA. Our capabilities here at MAF are unique and vital to NASA’s human space flight plans. Highly trained MAF workers have been building large aerospace flight hardware for nearly five decades and our deep water port is ideal for shipping these items. I feel confident about the future here at MAF and encourage everyone to keep working hard and good things will happen. A lot is going on this month, from the Saints in the Super Bowl to Mardi Gras. February also is black history month. MAF is proud of its highly diverse, exceptionally qualified work force. Michoud seeks to foster an inclusive, productive, equitable work environment in which every team member can realize his or her fullest potential. Our current NASA administrator, Charlie Bolden, is a great example of a strong leader as a former astronaut and Marine Corps general. I know he shares a deep appreciation of MAF’s contributions to NASA and will guide us into this decade with a sense of purpose and pride. Everyone stay safe and go Saints!

Malcolm Wood
Michoud Assembly Facility
Deputy Chief Operating Officer


Follow ET-134's Seafaring Journey and Sail With NASA!

Check out coverage of ET-134’s journey from Michoud to Kennedy Space Center with Steve Roy, Marshall Space Flight Center Shuttle spokesperson. Steve has been accompanying the External Tank from building 420 at Michoud all the way to Kennedy Space Center.

The blog offers a great history of Michoud and recognizes the hard work and effort of Michoud employees that are so critical to successful shuttle launches.

Come sail with us at!

Letters from Leadership

(Photo: Acting Manager, Steve Doering)

As I begin my second full month as acting manager here at MAF, NASA is facing a major transition and with transition will come change.  I’m confident that MAF will continue to play a significant role in the future of human space flight.

As many of you know, a summary report from the Augustine panel was delivered last month to NASA. The final report is still being compiled and edited and will be released after the committee completes its work.  NASA is awaiting the final report and is working with the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Executive Office of the President to plan the next steps leading to a decision by the President.   NASA will be working with the administration to determine how best to shape the agency’s human space flight efforts for the future.  However, until the committee’s final report is released and the options thoroughly considered, it is premature to draw conclusions about any changes in human space flight plans.

Meanwhile, MAF is staying focused on it current missions.  As we heard from NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden during his visit to MAF in August, the President is committed to a strong human spaceflight program.  Here at MAF, we continue to deliver External Tanks for the remaining Space Shuttle missions.  We are building hardware for the Orion capsule, and finishing the facility modifications for full production.  Ares Upper Stage has completed designs for their major facility work, and many components of manufacturing tooling have been delivered. 

The MAF workforce is the most dedicated and skilled group of folks around and I am proud to join the team.  Continue to work hard and focus on what we’ve been doing successfully for many years.

Steve Doering
Acting Manager
Michoud Assembly Facility