At MSFC: A Machinist’s Task

September 28 2012

Ingersoll: Inside a manufacturing warehouse at Marshall Space Flight Center

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Inside a manufacturing warehouse at Marshall Space Flight Center, a mechanical arm slowly carves out a ring from a slab of aluminum. It would be a simple process, except for one thing – size.
The ring is big and it takes a big machine to make it. Built in Rockford, Illinois and assembled at MSFC, the Ingersoll model is one of just a few in the world that could handle crafting a part for use in NASA’s next-generation spacecraft.
Machinist David Osborne has the difficult task of controlling the giant machine and switching out the various cutting parts on the arm that does the complex work. The stakes are high.
“The temperature can make really big parts fluctuate in size,” Osborne explained of the environment inside the warehouse, “So we keep the temperature at a real monitored temperature and we have a laser tracker come in and do all of our inspection on the parts.”
Even the smallest error, or divergence from specified measurements could cause the whole piece to be ruined. A series of computers and video monitors allows Osborne to keep track of the robotic arm’s movements at all times. He can then cross-check with the key data outlining the project specifications.
Building a single ring like the one that will eventually be a part of NASA’s Space Launch System and missions to Mars or beyond, will take 180 hours. The entire manufacturing process will take months.
It may be a slow go but Osborne said it’s thrilling to see the final product emerge and eventually make its way to space, “I can`t wait to see it come together.”