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Major Tool & Machine Makes Parts for Deep Space Exploration

Category: IMTS Network Jul 20, 2021

“NASA’s Artemis program is about advancing human space exploration and being a part of something larger than ourselves,” said David Weyreter, vice president, sales and marketing, Major Tool & Machine (MTM). “On behalf of the entire Major Tool family, we are honored to have the opportunity to support NASA and its prime contractors in sending humans back to the moon and then to Mars. It has given us not only the ability to grow our highly skilled team in downtown Indianapolis but, more importantly, the opportunity to actively contribute to our country and advance American manufacturing, technology, and innovation.”

13,000-pound piece of aluminum

More than 50 years after the first moon landing, the Artemis spaceflight program will return the United States to the moon. And MTM employees are proud to be a part of that effort.

A Team of 3,000 Suppliers
Directed predominantly by NASA, and with the participation of U.S. commercial spaceflight companies contracted by NASA as well as many international partners, the program will send a crew to the lunar south pole region. The launch vehicle, or space launch system (SLS), is a heavy-lift expendable rocket that has been under development since its announcement in 2011. It will launch Artemis III, and III. Commercial launch vehicles are planned for use to launch various other elements of the program.

The SLS will include the Orion spacecraft, which is the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel, and provide safe reentry to earth. The Orion spacecraft will hold four astronauts and will be able to remain docked to the space station for up to six months.

NASA’s prime contractors on the Artemis project are Aerojet Rocketdyne, Boeing, Jacobs, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman; however, these large companies only do about one-third of the work in-house. The remainder of the work is subcontracted to more than 3,800 suppliers nationwide, including MTM, and many of these are small- to medium-sized manufacturers with niche capabilities.

Inside MTM
Headquartered in Indianapolis on a sprawling 620,000 square-foot campus, MTM has been involved in the Artemis program since 2011. When you visit their facility, you realize “major” is not just a name, it’s a literal description. (It’s a big campus with big buildings, big machines, and even big pieces of raw material. In one case, a part started off as a 13,000-pound aluminum slab.) MTM has manufactured several components of the SLS and Orion, a class of partially reusable space capsules, including:

  • Cone panels for Orion
  • RS-25 rocket engine nozzles capable of 512,000 pounds of thrust
  • Large diameter rings for the launch vehicle stage adapter (LVSA)
  • Tank-related components for the core stage

Since starting work on these projects in 2011, the company has expanded its manufacturing capabilities and developed core competencies critical to being a key supplier to the Artemis program. Its history of making quality large parts by long-time skilled employees sets MTM apart. It has made investments in additional machining centers and engineering and quality assurance. Some of its largest machines include:

Mazak INTEGREX e-670H multi-tasking machining center
  • Mazak INTEGREX e-670H multi-tasking machining center 160" long with a 30" turning diameter
  • 20-meter surface gantry type milling machine that is 4.5 m wide and 2 m deep
  • Large gantry mill with a 5-axis machining center that measures 22 m long, 4.5 m wide and 2.5 m in depth

From MTM President
“There is a lot of pride in being a part of getting the astronauts in this country back to the moon, beyond the moon, and then eventually on to Mars,” says Mike Griffith, MTM president. ”

Tour MTM
To see how talented people using big machines make big things happen, watch this episode of Manufacturing Explorers, in which they tour MTM to see what it takes to cut, turn, and mill metal sections of up to 90 ft.

Orion Artemis I Progress
Lockheed Martin has completed assembly and testing of the Orion Artemis I spacecraft and has transferred possession to NASA's Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) team, which will perform final preparations on the spacecraft for its mission to the moon later this year. The Artemis I mission will be the first launch of the Orion spacecraft aboard NASA's space launch system rocket. Over the course of three weeks, the uncrewed Orion capsule will fly out and orbit the moon and return to Earth. This test mission will validate the spacecraft, rocket, and ground systems for future crewed missions.

Apollo vs. Orion
The Apollo spacecraft was designed to go only to the moon. Orion has been designed to go to the moon, fly past the moon, and reach an orbit farther away than any human spacecraft has ever traveled. Compared to the Apollo spacecraft, Orion has superior radiation protection, the world’s largest heat shield, and redundant systems, such as computers that remain operable in case something goes wrong. Orion is a critical part of NASA’s Artemis program to build a sustainable presence on the lunar surface and to prepare humans to one day travel to Mars.

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