Vivace Spacetron's Cygnus spacecraft transporter is hoisted Thursday onto a tractor-trailer that will take it to Virginia.
Valencia aerospace contractor Vivace Spacetron said goodbye to its new baby Thursday as it packed up and shipped off its custom-designed spacecraft transporter to Virginia.
“This is something very special to us,” said company President Rick Montoya. “Everybody put in so much work, and the product came out beautiful. We hope that our customer’s going to love it when they receive it.”
“It” is a complex chassis assembly and a high-tech, aluminum-walled container that the customer, Orbital Sciences Corp., will use to ferry its Cygnus spacecraft around the launchpad in Wallops Island, Va.
Cygnus is a $150 million commercial vehicle that is scheduled to take cargo to the International Space Station in February. As NASA transitions from its space shuttle program to new craft that will explore beyond low-Earth orbit, it’s leaving the task of servicing the 13-year-old space station to private carriers such as Orbital and SpaceX.
Those private carriers need contractors every bit as much as NASA does – and that’s where Vivace Spacetron fits in.
From a field of eight bidders, Orbital selected the Valencia firm to design, build, test and ship a system that would protect its spacecraft from the moist Wallace Island climate and keep it from getting jostled as it’s moved into flight position.
It’s more than a big box on wheels.
Montoya said eight airbag suspension systems ensure the spacecraft won’t move. Nitrogen is pumped in to dry up any moisture, an environmental control system maintains a constant temperature and built-in hydrogen detectors check for leaks.
The container’s aluminum walls won’t warp, thanks to “aerospace techniques that we’ve learned over the years,” Montoya said, and it comes in sections so it can be re-used for smaller craft in the future.
Design to Delivery
Montoya opened up shop in 1986 in the Valencia Industrial Center as Spacetron Corp., a subcontractor specializing in the manufacture of titanium bellows and vacuum chambers used in cryogenic propulsion systems.
Montoya teamed up with Texas-based Dave Cochran, whose engineering design firm Vivace Corp. is a program manager for Orbital.
So the Vivace Spacetron venture “is a brand new company, but we’ve been around for 28 years,” Montoya said.
He’s had a longstanding goal to move from subcontractor to contractor, and the joint venture provides that opportunity.
“I’ve always wanted to get the company to where we could do design, manufacturing and test, and when we put Vivace and Spactron together, we were able to accomplish that,” he said.
‘Like a Toolbox’
The roughly $1 million contract for the Cygnus Vertical Container Spacecraft Transporter required Montoya to hire 10 new manufacturing engineers. A new, longer-term contract for a mock-up of another, larger space vehicle should bring his total to nearly 30.
And whenever Montoya needed to sub out work on the transporter, he tried to keep the jobs in the Santa Clarita Valley. Jet Technologies did the waterjet cutting, Espana Fabricators provided the sheet metal, Fastenal provided the nuts and bolts, flanges were made by local machinists, several firms provided engineering services and even contract labor was found locally.
“I always call it like a toolbox for me,” Montoya said of the Valencia Industrial Center. “There are so many people with so much talent and resources.”
Montoya’s transporter was scheduled to leave Valencia Thursday at 9:30 p.m. under CHP escort. Even the logistics for hauling the extra-wide load through several states came as no easy task.
Selecting the carrier was simpler. Transporting the transporter to its final destination – at about 20 mph — is Contractors Cargo Co., which has hauled space shuttles across country for years.
Thursday won’t be the last time Montoya sees this fruit of Vivace Spacetron’s labor. He’ll travel with some of his crew to Virginia to unpack the transporter and make the official delivery.
“It’s going to be kind of sad to see it go,” he said, “but we’re looking forward to the new contract and keeping the company growing here in the Santa Clarita Valley.”