We scrap a few big cars – Things like Jaguars, Mercedes, 7 series BMWs, the odd Cadillac and the occasional stretch limo for example. But, let’s face it, size is such a relative thing and although these vehicles are ‘big’ when compared to smaller cars like the Fiat 500 or a Kia Picanto, they’re nothing when compared to some of the biggest, ‘baddest’ vehicles on the planet.

Small fry – The biggest truck in the world

When it comes to land vehicles, you get into a whole new league when you look at those specifically built for large-scale mining operations. A case in point is the BelAZ 75710 which is widely considered to be the biggest truck in the world, weighing in at an eye-watering 360 tonnes even when it’s empty! Considering this monster truck can then carry a 450-tonne load, that brings its fully laden weight up to 810 metric tonnes. But, even the BelAZ 75710 is small fry when compared to the largest and heaviest on the planet.

BelAZ-75710

The BelAZ-75710 is the biggest truck in the world. For scale, you can see the driver’s cab at the top right of the vehicle. Image courtesy of Hasan Hüseyin Kulak, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The NASA Crawlers – The biggest and heaviest self-powered vehicles on the planet

According to the Guinness Book of Records, The NASA Crawlers are the largest and heaviest self-propelled land transport vehicles on the planet (there are two of them by the way) meaning they have their own onboard engines to drive the caterpillar tracks directly.

The NASA Crawler Transporter

Crawler-transporter no.2 beginning a road test on 21 December 2004 after replacement of the shoes on its caterpillar tracks. This Crawler was used to transport Space Shuttle Discovery to the launch pad for the STS-114 mission. NASA, Public domain image, via Wikimedia Commons

Self-propelled vs. externally powered vehicles

On a side note and just to quickly clear one thing up before we go on…You may have noticed our repeated use of the terms “self-propelled” and “self-powered” in this post. The reason is that we’re making the distinction between a vehicle which is powered by its own onboard engine(s) to one that is powered via an external energy supply.

For example, if you search the internet for “what is the biggest vehicle in the world”, you may see results for the Bagger 288 coming up. This is because, technically, the Bagger 288 and its slightly heavier sibling, the Bagger 293 could be considered the biggest but for the fact they are powered externally. In other words, they don’t have their own onboard supply of power. Instead, they rely on 16.56 megawatts of externally supplied electricity to function.

The Bagger 288 excavator

The ultimate behemoth – The Bagger 288 excavator is the biggest non-self-powered vehicle on the planet

More about the NASA Crawler-transporters

Formally known as the Missile Crawler Transporter Facilities, the two colossal vehicles (CT1 and CT2) are lovingly nicknamed “Hans and Franz” and they live at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA. Their main purpose is to ferry rockets to the launch pad and they’ve been doing just that for over 50 years. Each one weighs 6.6 million pounds, which is the equivalent of 15 Statues of Liberty and just short of 3,000 tonnes. They can carry a payload of 18 million pounds, which is about the same as 20 fully loaded 777 aeroplanes or just over 8,000 tonnes. This means NASA’s Crawler Transporter can weigh 11,000 tonnes when carrying a payload.

The NASA Crawler with the Mobile Transporter

Rollout of the Apollo 11 Saturn V rocket from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pad. NASA, Public domain image, via Wikimedia Commons

Size

Each crawler has a total of eight caterpillar tracks, two on each corner, with each track having 57 shoes. They measure 40 x 35 metres with the height from ground level varying from 6.1 to 7.9 m (each side can be raised and lowered independently).

Date built and work undertaken

Built in 1965, the first crawler had to move the legendary Saturn V rocket from its assembly building to the launch pad. After the moon landing (and Skylab) programs were completed, both crawlers continued ferrying the Space Shuttles to the launch pads for the next 30 years.

The Space Shuttle Discovery makes its way up the 5 percent gradient to the hardstand of Launch Pad 39B. NASA, Public domain image, via Wikimedia Commons

Propulsion

As of 2003, each crawler had 16 traction motors that were powered by four 1,000 kW generators which were driven by two 2,750 hp diesel engines. On top of that, two 750 kW generators driven by two 1,065 hp engines were used for jacking, steering, lighting, and ventilation.

Fuel

It was certainly never designed to break any fuel economy records; the fuel tank held 19,000 litres of diesel fuel which burned 296 litres for every kilometre travelled – That’s 126 gallons per mile although this went up to 165 gallons per mile after the upgrades mentioned below.

Upgrades

As technology advanced, various upgrades have been needed, mainly to support the heavier Space Launch System and its launch tower. Starting in 2012 the crawlers underwent upgrades to the engines, exhausts, brakes, hydraulics, computer systems and one of them ( CT-2) was further upgraded from 2014 onwards to increase its lifting capacity to 8,200 tonnes.

Top speed

When carrying a payload each vehicle travels at approximately 1mph but has a top speed of 2 mph when unladen.

The “Mobile Launcher” platforms

The crawlers are distinct from The Mobile Launchers (ML1 and ML2). These are the ground structures that are used to assemble, process and launch NASA’s space vehicles.

Prior to a launch, one of the crawler-transporters picks up the mobile launcher and carries it to the launch pad. The launcher is then secured in situ and the crawler moves away.

Space Shuttle Challenger

Space Shuttle Challenger is carried by a Crawler-transporter on the way to the launch pad prior to its final flight before being destroyed in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Photo taken on 22nd December 1985 NASA, Public domain image, via Wikimedia Commons

Watch the video

Although made over a decade ago, this short video on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center’s official YouTube channel gives a perfect summation of what the crawlers are all about. And, in case you’re wondering and would like to see it, each crawler does indeed have a steering wheel, which is the same size as one you’d find on a go-cart!

 

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