The space rocket, the Tesla and the load cell

Published On: February 13 2018


Space rockets used to be the ultimate throw-away product, but the Falcon Heavy launch launch on February 6th 2018 changed all that. The SpaceX-built rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral with three individual boosters. Two of them returned safely with almost balletic precision (the third got a little confused and missed its robotic ship target).

The Falcon Heavy rocket boasts no less than 27 engines, which generate 22.8m newtons of thrust. It’s not the tallest rocket at just 70 metres tall, nor the heaviest, but at a mere $90m each, the Falcon Heavy is a quarter of the price of it’s nearest rival, the Delta IV Heavy, and can haul twice as much cargo.

An unusual payload…

What caught the eye of most of the world press, however, was the payload: a Tesla car complete with mannequin  astronaut in a SpaceX spacesuit, and David Bowie playing on the car’s stereo. In a wonderful piece of PR, the car will be in orbit between the Earth and Mars for several million years.

Now, short of emailing Elon Musk and asking him, we can’t confirm exactly how many load cells would have been involved in the creation and deployment of both the rocket or the payload, but we can probably safely say there are a fair few!

Moving the Falcon Heavy

If a heavy rocket is to be launched from the Kennedy Space Centre, they’ll travel to the launch pad on the back of a NASA crawler transporter. These massive moving machines are now over 50 years old, but still trundle rockets at a maximum speed of 1 mile an hour, burning up 150 gallons of diesel per mile as they do so.

Celebrating 50 years of these hard-working heavyweights, NASA created a cool infographic. The graphic may not show the load cells, but given the need to constantly monitor the extremely expensive payloads these crawler-transporters carries, we’re sure each one is packed with a warehouse-worth of load cells.

Testing rocket boosters

SpaceX is not the only rocket in town; NASA is constantly launching and testing its own space missions. A blog on their website gives the low-down on how they text rocket boosters in a variety of temperatures in the Utah desert.

The T-97 test stand is designed to accurately measure thrust, as the blog explains:

“During the test, the motor will push against a forward thrust block with more than three million pounds of force. Holding down the rocket motor is more than 13 million pounds of concrete — most of which is underground. The test stand contains a system of load cells that enable engineers to measure the thrust the motor produces and verify their predictions.” NASA blog

Testing a Tesla

As for the Tesla car, all road vehicles are tested using load cells at multiple stages of their manufacture, from tension measurement in process automation, quality assurance tests, and off axis/sideloading testing and monitoring.

Load cells for everyone

So, if you need to measure the thrust of your latest space rocket or construct a test rig for your world-beater sports car, call us. We can help design a load cell system to meet your specific requirements, drawing on our extensive experience of the design, manufacture and deployment of all types of load cells.

We offer both wired and wireless load cells systems, so you don’t need to stand too close to those booster rockets to get all the readings you need…