Endeavour Moves Through the Cloud

After 20 years of service, the Space Shuttle Endeavour traveled the streets of Los Angeles on October 12th to its final resting place at the California Science Center in Exposition Park. Endeavours shortest and slowest journey in its 20 years began at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and traversed 15 miles of busy LA streets. At 122 feet in length, a wingspan of 78 feet, a height of 58 feet and weighing in at 175,000 pounds, Endeavour had many obstacles to maneuver and squeeze around to safely and successfully find its way through the roadway corridors of Los Angeles.

As with any great journey, Endeavour needed a map to aid in navigation and David Evans and Associates, Inc. (DEA) was the 3D cartographer to do this.


When the California Science Center (CSC) was selected as the recipient of one of the now retired space shuttles, the museum board of directors immediately began planning a route to the CSC. The museum knew that since the shuttle was to be ferried on top of a 747 aircraft the preferred location to land and prepare something of that magnitude would be Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). An initial engineering team was assembled to study several routes to the CSC before they made the final selection. Due to the space shuttles tall tail and wide stance, overhead obstacles and buildings would be an important factor in the final route selection. One of the points of discussion at the initial board of directors meeting was the dimensions of the shuttle and whether or not removing the tail and wings to ease the shuttle through the streets was a possibility. NASA was very clear that no portion of the shuttle could be dismantled for the move. It was going to be all or nothing.

In the early part of August 2011, Robert Vasquez, PLS and California Survey Manager for DEA was contacted by Cordoba Corporation, a civil engineering company, who was selected by the CSC to begin coordinating the final journey for this great ship. Having had prior success on projects, Cordoba thought of DEA and its expertise in 3D mobile laser scanning to support the team for the shuttle move. When Cordoba asked if we would join the team to bring the Space Shuttle to Los Angeles, I jumped at this once in a lifetime opportunity to be involved in a historical engineering event said Vasquez. Cordoba knew that by providing 3D laser scanning technology, DEAs survey team would accurately identify critical horizontal and vertical conflicts along the route.

Data Collection

Wasting no time, DEA employed its TiTAN 3D mobile laser scanning system along the route, which safely collected a dense point cloud data at regular traffic speeds.

Once the scanning was completed and post processed, the data was ready for extraction and mapping. DEA met again with the Shuttle Move Team, which included representatives from the civil engineers, CSC board of directors, utilities coordinators, and representatives from the local municipalities, and began to assemble the parameters for conflict identification. After all, this wasnt a typical mapping project where someone takes all the scan data and starts extracting and mapping data from one end of the project to the other. Instead, this was strictly to identify all horizontal and vertical conflicts along this confidential route.

This should have been a simple task for experienced modelers, considering the size of the collection, over millions of points, and knowing the exact location of everything the scanners collected along the route. While the space shuttles dimensions are 122 feet long, 58 feet tall and 78 feet wide, the Shuttle Move Team wanted a little more guarantees for the final move, so they increased the parameters to 125 feet long, 60 feet tall and 80 feet wide. In addition to these parameters a fourth dimension, the bottom of the wing, would need to clear obstacles as well at 8 feet above the surface.

It turned out that to meet the demanding schedule for deliverables and extremely high expectations, DEA had to find a proven procedure to identify horizontal and vertical conflicts given the Shuttle Move Teams parameters. The challenge was to identify the conflicts or clash detection without the benefit of traditionally mapping 15 miles of corridor. Each location where any of the shuttles parameters (wings and tail) would clash needed to be identified with only the point clouds. No one we asked had performed this procedure, said Vasquez. DEA reached out beyond its doors to other competitors, software manufactures and experienced modelers for assistance in this challenge with little response.

Vasquez asked the DEA modelers whether the same technique developed and implemented before on rail corridor projects could also be used for this Space Shuttle clash detection. No one was sure it would work because DEA was being asked to identify conflicts with four strict parameters. DEA modelers developed a point cloud cutting method that would make it possible to accurately identify the horizontal and vertical clashes along the route.

In a few weeks, a spreadsheet was prepared identifying over 700 clashes, 155 of them being overhead lines. To help the Shuttle Move Team visualize the conflicts, DEA prepared mapping exhibits using existing aerial imagery and the scan data clash detection locations. When DEA presented the list of conflicts to the Shuttle Move Team, they were caught off guard as they did not expect this magnitude of conflict. It would become a major coordinating effort to splice the overhead lines that would clash with the Space Shuttle. The challenge the utility companies faced was to be able to interrupt service, cut the cable, re-splice the cable after the shuttle passed through, and then reconnect the service, all within the same hour.

Visualization Animations/Virtual Reality

Late 2011, CSC selected a heavy lifting and engineering transport firm, Sarens Group, to perform the actual shuttle move. To assist the Shuttle Move Team and the large transport movers, DEA created several visualization animations. By utilizing the collected scan data, DEA was able to create true scale visualization using a scaled shuttle shape downloaded from NASA. Prior to using, DEA confirmed the shuttles dimensions against this downloaded shape file and found it to be true scale. These animations were provided to the Sarens Group and Vasquez had many discussions with Sarens Group about the possibility of using the 3D point cloud data for a virtual shuttle move. Along with this data, DEA discussed the possibility of preparing alignments to properly prepare the Sarens Groups moving team on the shuttle moving day. The idea was that if you could move the shuttle virtually, the team would be able to move the actual Endeavour through the streets of Los Angeles with relative ease.

Endeavour on the Move

Fast forward a year later and on October 12, 2012, the Space Shuttle Endeavour began its journey along the selected route. It was great to see DEAs hard work and efforts in real time while the Endeavour traveled down the street recalled Vasquez who was on scene the first day of the move.

Vasquez personally followed the move online the next few days. A local station had live streaming video of every inch of the shuttle move. One of the tightest spots for horizontal clearance was along Crenshaw Avenue just as it left Manchester Boulevard. Only a few feet or less would separate the shuttle wing tip with building faces. I recall viewing the live video and seeing the shuttle squeak by the tight spot said Vasquez, only to be stopped by a still standing tree? How can this be? Did we miss an obstacle and now the move is on standby? Vasquez immediately opened and reviewed the point list and exhibit maps prepared a year earlier to confirm his believe and found that this tree was in fact identified as a potential conflict.

After a year of planning, and a few obstacles, the shuttle move was a huge success. The use of 3D laser scanning for this type of project was just another example of using the proper technology for what it was intended for. Most importantly, with all the articles and discussions published locally and abroad on this shuttle move, the general public gained a small piece of knowledge of 3D laser scanning.

Robert Vasquez, PLS is the California Survey Manager for David Evans and Associates, Inc. (www.deainc.com) David Evans and Associates, Inc is a leader in 3D laser scanning and has implemented this technology on many of their projects. For more information on the Space Shuttle Endeavour, visit the California Science Center Air and Space Exhibit in Los Angeles. (www.californiasciencecenter.org)

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