Rockets, planes and sewers: load cells on the level

Published On: September 13 2019

Load cells are at the heart of three very different projects that involve keeping element on a level plain, including a NASA rocket, a sewer shaft and a airplane assembly line.


Turning space rockets on their side

If you’ve ever had your project specs changed halfway through, spare a thought for the team at Boeing building the new NASA Space Launch System (SLS) Core Stage.

In order to, quote, “cash in on the schedule benefits of the new plan”, the carefully constructed engine section needed to be turned from its current vertical position to lie horizontally. It may have only be a 90 degree turn, but according to an incredibly detailed article at, the process involved modifying existing tools and creating several new ones within just a few months.

The idea is relatively simple; to “rotate the engine section and boattail extension to horizontal, roll them over to the rest of the stage, line them up, and bolt them together.” Simple – except the engine stage, the most complicated part of the new NASA launch vehicle, was never designed to lie on its side. Furthermore, the giant moveable platform it sits in is configured for a vertical set-up. Hence all the new design required for the “breakover” from vertical to horizontal.

Corey Dillard, Lead Lifting and Handling Engineer for Boeing, is in charge of ensuring a safe and successful lift.

“We have about two days of prep work to do before we’re ready to breakover. … We’ll lift and weigh the engine section/boattail for mass properties numbers. Which is not just lift it and weigh it — it’s rig it, lift it, hold it, get a weight, set it back down. (Then) completely de-rig it, re-zero all our load cells, reconnect, and then lift and weigh it a second time to verify first weight, get the average of two.”

“Depending on hours of the day there, we’re probably saying that’s the end of that operation, that’s one lift plan that will be done. Then I’ll have to rotate us onto two shifts because from there forward we’ll be going into continuous operations.”

For a very detailed, step by step description of the whole lifting and moving process, see NASA Spaceflight


Load cells in Indian space race testing

Load cells are also helping the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) to test and evaluate the thrust capacity of the rocket motor before the launch of every satellite. It’s good to see that, according to a press release,

“The 450 Ton Force Calibration System at the Space Centre at Sriharikota which has been maintained by Vaiseshika Electron Devices has been working without even a single breakdown for the last 11 years at Sriharikota.”


Saving Lake Erie from sewage pollution

The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s (NEORSD) Project Clean Lake involves an impressive $153 million project to create14,000-foot-long (2.8 mi.) Dugway Storage Tunnel. The new super sewer will

“capture 370 million gallons of combined sewage annually, and prevent pollution from entering Dugway Brook and Lake Erie.”

The tunnel also requires six shafts along its length, which is where load cells were required.

The challenge came with one shaft that was sunk through shale, according to Jim Kabat, project manager for the Salini Impregilo/Lane Construction JV.

“Dewatering was required in two locations to depressurize the water level during the excavation of the overburden. In one of these locations the ground conditions did not allow the successful depressurization of groundwater.

“In the DST-1 shaft, ground freezing was used in place of the dewatering to allow the successful excavation through a portion of the overburden. The ground freezing worked very effectively. The steel ribs were modified to resist the increase in pressure from the ground expansion due to freeze and strain gauges, and load cells were installed on the ribs and behind the liner plates to monitor the load and ensure that it did not overstress the ribs and liner plates.”


More A320’s please

Airbus Hamburg had a problem. They were running out of capacity to assemble their new A320 aircraft, and they needed it fast. The only available space was a hanger previously used to assemble A380s.

Assembly of the A320 involves pin-point accuracy in alignment of the aircraft sections, and that’s where the issues in the old A380 hanger arose. According to an article in Aero Mag:

“The hangar floor is a standard industrial one, with undulations of a few centimetres which would otherwise cause problems. Whilst the MTPs are in motion, though, the ride is described like being “on a flying carpet”. There are load cells everywhere which are carefully monitored and controlled to avoid introducing stresses into the incomplete airframe. This is entirely consistent with the whole philosophy within the line, though, with an ability to accommodate geometric uncertainty rather than to fight against it.”


Load cells for your next lifting or logistics challenge

At the Load Cell Shop, we’ve provided load cells for an incredible range of projects. If you have a specific requirement for a non-standard load cell, call us. We can design and manufacture load cells to your requirements.