Caldwell moves lunar lander for final assembly

13 April 2023

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A 2,500lb capacity transport cradle, customised by The Caldwell Group Inc., has been used to facilitate final assembly of Intuitive Machines’ lunar lander, Nova-C, that is scheduled to land on the Moon this June.

When the assembly in Houston, Texas, is complete, the lander requires highly customised transportation to Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where it will be launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket. The short and long base assemblies designed by The Caldwell Group, delivered by Caldwell distributor Kennedy Wire Rope & Sling Company Inc., also meet Nova-C’s requirements for safe transport.

“We installed Nova-C to the short base to move it out of the assembly room and into the high bay in the vertical position,” says Intuitive Machines assembly and integration lead, Greg Vajdos. “In the high bay, our engineers joined the short base with the long base and rotated the lander to a horizontal orientation for welding. By providing Intuitive Machines the means to safely transport and rotate Nova-C, Caldwell has accelerated our ability to perform mission-critical work on the lander in a safe environment.”

The short base has been utilised throughout the long-term project across various sites when the lander was upright on wheels and combined with the long base for movement and shipment in a horizontal position. Intuitive Machines’ structural engineers analysed the entire system at the first lateral mode for bending at 15Hz. Caldwell designed a 4:1 safety factor using twice its capacity in all directions and configurations and met the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) B30.20 BTH-2 Category B, Service Class 0.

“Nova-C is Intuitive Machines’ opportunity to return the United States to the surface of the Moon for the first time since Apollo 17 in 1972,” explained Vajdos. “The Caldwell stand is essential to accomplishing our mission, and we’re confident that Nova-C will be safely transported to KSC for launch.”

“This is one of the most exciting projects Patrick Eytalis [application specialist at Caldwell] and I have worked on,” said Dan Mongan, Caldwell new product development specialist. “To be involved in such an iconic space programme has been an engineering challenge and career highlight.

“Intuitive Machines gave us the ability to work with all stakeholders to bring the stand and transporter system to fruition. It’s a testament to everyone’s commitment to the end goal over countless hours of consultations and multiple design phases.”

The Intuitive Machines mission will place the Nova-C lander – a hexagonal cylinder on six landing legs with a launch mass of 1,908kg – near the south pole of the Moon. The commercially built lander is capable of carrying 100kg of payload and will carry five Nasa payloads and commercial cargo. The lander is capable of operating for about 14 Earth days in sunlight.

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Nova-C assembly in Houston, Texas.
After welding, the lander was returned to the vertical position
The 2.500-lb capacity cradle was customized by The Caldwell Group Inc.