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Incorrectly built SLS welding machine to be rebuilt

You can’t make this stuff up. A giant welding machine, built for NASA’s multi-billion dollar Space Launch System (SLS), needs to be rebuilt because the contractor failed to reinforce the floor, as required, prior to construction.

Sweden’s ESAB Welding & Cutting, which has its North American headquarters in Florence, South Carolina, built the the roughly 50-meter tall Vertical Assembly Center as a subcontractor to SLS contractor Boeing at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

ESAB was supposed to reinforce Michoud’s floor before installing the welding tool, but did not, NASA SLS Program Manager Todd May told SpaceNews after an April 15 panel session during the 31st Space Symposium here. As a result, the enormous machine leaned ever so slightly, cocking the rails that guide massive rings used to lift parts of the 8.4-meter-diameter SLS stages The rings wound up 0.06 degrees out of alignment, which may not sound like much, “but when you’re talking about something that’s 217 feet [66.14 meters] tall, that adds up,” May said.

Asked why ESAB did not reinforce the foundation as it was supposed to, May said only it was a result of “a miscommunication between two [Boeing] subcontractors and ESAB.”

How everyone at NASA, Boeing, and ESAB could have forgotten to do the reinforcing, even though it was specified in the contract, baffles me. It also suggests that the quality control in the SLS rocket program has some serious problems.

Update: The original story at Space News that I originally linked to disappeared sometime in the next week, and was replaced with a slightly more detailed and more positive story, now linked above.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • pzatchok

    Somehow we were able to build the Saturn 5 that went to the moon without one of these fancy expensive machines and we put those together pretty straight.

    Why can’t we do that again?

    This is just one more way that this program will suck up billions of dollars as a jobs program.

  • wodun

    This is insane. I can’t believe that this wasn’t caught sooner, like prior to the installation of the machine.

    Could you imagine the comments if SpaceX had made a mistake like this? Of course they haven’t but still receive the criticism as if they had done something like this.

  • Kelly Starks

    Reminds me of a Sikorsky directive to teach a company making composite blades for some very old Sikorsky helos, how to get their quality up. They kept finding the measurements were very inconsistent even though the company was using state of the art laser measuring gear. Found out they were bolting the gear to a ceiling rafter. So snow loads or heating cooling of the roof would twist the structure the lasers were on. So with them measuring the ultra precise distance’s from a moving reference point….


  • And since it’s a cost plus job……

  • Rick Edwards

    Taxpayers will end up eating the cost of repairs.

  • Maybe they outsourced QC to the Russians.

  • This is bad, no doubt. With complex programs there are many things that could go wrong. It’s hard to believe there wasnt any formal design or construction authorization meeting that wouldn’t have caught this requirement.

  • B Lewis

    Who cares? The important thing is that MUSLIMS FEEL GOOD ABOUT THEMSELVES.

  • ace

    I’m sorry but it is simply not possible to proceed with a complex contract and not have someone notice that a process or task has had no resources applied to it. There would have been a budget and a timeframe. The beancounters would have been well aware that nothing had been done.

    I don’t believe for one second that this was accidental.

  • pzatchok

    Exactly how do you reinforce a concrete floor that is already poured and has steel reinforcements in it already?

    Would they have had to rip it all up and redo it? Millions of dollars possibly.
    Or add something like a large steel pad to the top?

    Drilling holes and cementing in anchor bolts would not be stable or strong enough. Thousands of dollars.
    Which is more than likely exactly what they did.

    And are they taking into account the environmental expansion of the pad and the framework?

  • steve mackelprang

    Construction jobs that are competitively bid, have a book of specifications, generally called a ” spec”. This list of requirements for successfully completing the job to the customers requirements is a legal document. This allows all of the potential contractors to bid to a common set of standards. Generally the winning bid is decided on price and reputation of the contractor, some jobs are required by law to take the low bid (price) but this is known by anyone who has been around for a while, to be jumping over dollars to pick up dimes.

    Sometimes several contractors will team up to present a more total package, playing to the strengths of each and thus being more competitive, this can be good, but it can also lead to verbal agreements which are asssumed by the guys doing the talking to work to both of their advantage, but in fact aren’t necessarily on the up and up. I’ve seen this many times over the years… for instance and this is only an example , but I have seen general contractors verbally tell a subcontractor to not worry about doing something that is spelled out in the spec,, saying that it will be alright, and this will save both of us some money. If there isn’t a good quality control system in place , or the inspector can be bought (gasp!) this can fly… I’ve seen it. Of course when there is a problem down the trail with something failing, or something not quite up to the customers expectations and an investigation ensues… we can have real trouble.

    Don’t know if this was the case, here, but contractors on the government gravy train tend to get take things for granted over time, and I would say this is certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

  • Kelly Starks

    Come to think of it. Were’nt they still using the same machines as they used for the Sat-V and the shuttle ET’s?

  • pzatchok

    Well if it worked for 50 years why change now?

    Oh yeh, its a jobs program. You can keep all the old people working and hire more to build the new equipment for them.

    They are still using the same old solid boosters that the shuttle used. They are just adding another segment in order to add to the burn time. That very same 50 year old design.

  • Gealon

    Exactly. The entire existing slab would have to be torn out, a larger whole would then have to be dug to accommodate the extra concrete, steel and possibly footings and then a whole knew slab would then have to be poured. If those bean counters didn’t notice the fact that the work hadn’t been done, you would think when the techs arrive to start installing the machine that they would notice the floor wasn’t new. This has “Deliberate” written all over it.

  • Kelly Starks

    > .. Well if it worked for 50 years why change now?

    SLS has a different hull shape?

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