Launch Complex-40: Taking Projects into Mars

June 16, 2016

The Mars Observer spacecraft was a robotic space probe launched by NASA to study the surface, atmosphere, climate and magnetic field of the red planet. The observer was based on a commercial Earth-orbiting spacecraft and designed to study and take high-resolution photographs of the Martian surface.

The observer was originally planned to launch in 1990 but was pushed back to 1992 in lieu of other backlogged missions and budget issues. In order for the mission to take off many of the support facilities at Launch Complex-40 (LC-40), where the Observer's launch vehicle, Titan III, would blast off, had to be demolished and rebuilt.

A new complex had to be built in just 24 months, in time to launch Mars Observer in the fall of 1992, when Earth and the Mars would be ideally aligned. This launch window would not open again for years so it was imperative that this project be on time. 

During the project more than 150 change orders would double the scope of work. At one point, 1,000 workers swarmed the complex, 700 employed by Bechtel. Workers labored in two 10-hour shifts, seven days a week. 

The 6-story, 11-million-pound facility was comprised of two major structures, a stationary umbilical tower (UT) and a mobile service tower (MST). The UT was 170 feet high with 21 movable platforms. At the time of launch, it was considered to be the heaviest mobile structure ever built.

The complex was  considered innovative because of many features including platforms that could adapt to fit different sized rockets, a stringent security system, and a design that could withstand 100 miles-per-hour winds. The mobile service tower could also be moved 700 feet away from the tower by four electric-powered hydraulic trucks on rails. 

 In the end, the project met its schedule, and so did the Mars Observer probe, lifting off on September 25, 1992.

"The Mars probe captured the imaginations of everyone working on launch complex 40, and I think that's part of the reason we were able to complete a nearly impossible project successfully," said Wayne Borger, site project manager. "It was the sense we were all involved in something very grand and important."

Tags: mars, NASA


Subscribe to Art of the Build to receive email alerts when new stories are posted.