One of the biggest challenges in readying NASA's space shuttles for flight is assembling the solid rockets. After each mission, the reusable rocket casings are retrieved from the ocean, refilled with new propellant, and reassembled into 126-foot-tall boosters. Soon, NASA plans to turn to three giant, computer-controlled robots for help with the job. The 70-foot-tall robots will inspect, clean, dry, and line new and refurbished solid-rocket boosters. Despite their size, they will work at tolerances of 50-to-100 thousandths of an inch.
A small Canadian engineering company, Vadeko International Inc., will design and build the robotic system for NASA's advanced solid-rocket motor facility under construction in Iuka, Miss. Vadeko, based in Ontario, builds large robots to clean and paint railway-hopper cars and to finish and inspect the interiors of Titan and Delta rockets. The company plans to have the shuttle robots in service in 1993.