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

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

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

(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

Spring is Busy With Activity as Transition Continues at Michoud

Editor’s note: Welcome to the new Michoud Assembly Facility Blog! This blog will accompany our media web site to provide an inside look and perspective on NASA’s Michoud facility in New Orleans — the people, the work, the capability, the mission…cajun-style! Got any ideas for blogs? Let us know! E-mail us at

(Photo: Michoud Manager, Sheila Cloud)

The last several months have been filled with a flurry of activity at the Michoud Assembly Facility. In January, the STS-126 crew visited Michoud to thank our work force for their important role in the crew’s successful launch and mission.

Following mission highlights in January, STS-126 astronaut Heide Stephanyshyn-Piper,
right, presented a plaque to the Michoud work force featuring a flag patch that flew
on her mission. Randy Tassin, Lockheed Martin vice president of program
management and technical operations at Michoud, accepted the gift. (Lockheed Martin)

Transition truly began taking shape in February and March with facility modifications for Orion work and installation of the robotic weld tooling for the Orion project. ET-130 is already on the launch pad for the STS-125 launch in May. ET-131 is also at Kennedy Space Center ready to support the STS-127 June launch and the External Tank assembly team is close to completing ET-132 which will ship from Michoud to Kennedy Space Center in early May.

ET-130 sits on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center with the orbiter Atlantis
awaiting the May launch of STS-125. (NASA/KSC)

The LaSpace/NASA Michoud Education Fellow Program hosted its first scientist telecon in March for 60 local high school students, focusing on orbital mechanics. Michoud also participated in a Covington job fair reaching over 1,600 high school students in Louisiana, educating them on the many exciting career paths in science and technology. April brought key Friction Stir Welding stakeholders to Michoud for a meeting to discuss the value of the technology and how to move the technology into the U.S. industry, specifically the aluminum shipbuilding industry. On April 16, the Orion team completed a milestone with a successful first robotic weld on an Orion crew module ground test article. As you can see, Michoud continues to be a place of innovation and excellence, opening doors of opportunity for technology, economic development and education in Louisiana.

Michoud Chief Operating Officer Chip Jones, right, gives an overview of Michoud to
NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) during a facility tour March 6.
The panel visited Michoud for a briefing on Michoud’s safety culture and industrial
safety trends, as well as transition plans for the facility. ASAP was established in 1968
to evaluate and advise on NASA’s safety performance. (Lockheed Martin)

Moving to another area of excellence, I would like to commend the external tank team members for their meticulous attention to detail and commitment to safety. During the last three shuttle missions, the external tank has performed superbly with minimal loss of thermal protection system. Our work at Michoud is vital to providing safe, reliable shuttle missions. Because of your commitment to excellence, the shuttle missions are the safest they have ever been. Thank you!

The robotic cross beam for the Ares I Upper Stage robotic weld tool is delivered to the main
manufacturing building at Michoud for installation later this year. (NASA)

2009 is going to be a year of significant change for Michoud and I want to share our five-year vision for Michoud. We are transitioning our facility to a multi-product and a multi-customer facility. We will ensure delivery of external tank hardware, while providing start up and manufacturing support for various activities within Ares and Orion projects. This includes implementing an integrated master plan and investments, upgrades, new facilities and retrofitting existing facilities. We will partner with the state of Louisiana for continued growth at Michoud, and bolster Greater New Orleans recovery efforts by supporting regional rebuilding and improving the quality of life for Michoud employees. That’s a tall order — but we are poised to move forward successfully with these endeavors.

Finally, I would like to update you on the status of the Manufacturing Support for Facility Operations (MSFOC) contract. The contract is slated to be awarded in the very near future. We have developed a 62-day transition plan to turn over facilities management to the new contractor. This contract will enable Michoud to move from a single project facility to a multi-project facility managing the Shuttle External Tank, Orion, Ares I Upper Stage, Ares instrument unit and Ares V Earth Departure Stage and Booster projects. In addition, Michoud includes the National Center for Advanced Manufacturing (NCAM), federal tenants and future green space development and collaborative partnerships with the state of Louisiana. NASA will hold an employee general assembly meeting soon to announce the contract award and introduce the new contractor.

We have a lot to look forward to in 2009 — and for decades to come, enabling the next generation of human spacecraft to the moon, Mars and beyond.

Sheila Cloud
Michoud Assembly Facility