OTTAWA — If you were driving along U.S. Route 224 Monday, you might have seen something a little peculiar: a giant, white, half-cylindrical massive structure being hauled by a tractor-trailer.
While it may look a little strange, the ivory-colored aluminum trailer will soon house NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, an 11,000-pound infrared-optimized space telescope.
Nelson Trailer Manufacturing in Ottawa built the huge trailer, and it left the facility around 7 a.m. Monday bound for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. From Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the trailer and the tractor will travel on a C-5A aircraft to Aberdeen, Md., where it will be stored in a NASA storage space.
“We’ve done other trailers that have been used to transport space crafts and cargo like it,” said Tony Niese, president of Nelson Trailer Manufacturing. “So we have some experience with it. This is the largest and most complicated project that we’ve ever done, but we still had some prior experience with it.”
The trailer will be accompanied by three troopers from the Lima post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, two Art’s Rental bucket trucks and an Alpine Tree Service tree trimming truck.
Though the telescope is set to officially launch in 2018 in French Guiana by a European space agency, Niese said the trailer will travel across the country beforehand to pick up parts and really to test out the trailer to make sure its secure for the telescope.
“It has 11 payloads, so they’re moving parts on this trailer 11 times,” he said. “The eleventh move will be the satellite and that’s not scheduled until 2018. But it’s going to haul parts starting in May.”
Troopers said the tractor and the large trailer used U.S. 224 and state Route 53 Monday, traveling through Findlay and Tiffin and ending up just past Upper Sandusky. The trailer can’t use Interstate 75 southbound to Dayton because some overpasses are too low.
“It will probably take three days just to get down to Wright Patt,” said Ron Brenneman, driver of the tractor. “I estimate we’ll be traveling 25 to 30 miles per hour most of the time.”
A lot of the time will also be spent clearing the roadway for the trailer, he said.
“There’s a lot of lights to pick up, wires to pick up and maybe some trees to trim so that we don’t hit anything,” Brenneman said.
Brenneman, who has been driving trucks for 40 years, said he’s no stranger to driving wide loads. He said he estimates this one will take up about one and a half lanes.
“I’ve done this kind of thing before,” he said. “Now, I’ve never had my truck in an airplane before.”
Niese said his company started official construction on the trailer Jan. 30, but design started a year and a half before.
“We have all these fixtures inside and a shock isolation system,” he said. “When the cover’s off, part of the trailer on the inside comes out and that’s also for the rotation fixture, to allow to turn it. They load the satellite vertical and then they rotate it down.”
The trailer measures 18-and-a-half-feet wide by 17-feet-tall, Niese said. His company also completed a trailer that held a spacecraft for Landsat Data Continuity Mission, he said.
The James Webb telescope is designed to have a large mirror, 21.3 feet in diameter, and a sun shield the size of a tennis court. Its mission is to find the first galaxies that formed in the early universe, connecting the Big Bang Theory to the Milky Way Galaxy.