NASA Spinoff

New Lubricants Protect Machines and the Environment

The Mobile Launcher Platform at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is a two-story steel structure that provides a transportable launch base for the space shuttle. The main body of the platform is 160 feet long, 135 feet wide, and 25 feet high. When completely unloaded, the platform weighs about 8 million pounds. When it is carrying the weight of an unfueled space shuttle, it weighs about 11 million pounds.

To transport a fully assembled space shuttle and the Mobile Launcher Platform from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pad, NASA uses a vehicle it calls a crawler. The crawler is 131 feet long, 114 feet wide, and 20 feet high (about the size of a baseball diamond), and features eight tracks fitted with 7.5- by 1.5-foot shoes that help roll the massive vehicle and its payload along.

Back in 1994, NASA sought a new type of lubricant that would be safe for the environment and would help “grease the wheels” by making the meticulous 1 mile per hour, 3-mile trek of the shuttle-bearing launcher platform to the launch pad an easier process. To satisfy the environmental requirement, the lubricant had to be biodegradable. This was especially important, since Kennedy is a wildlife refuge. To account for the size and the weight of the space shuttle/platform combination, as well as the tortoise-like pace and the distance being traveled, the lubricant had to sustain a long operating life while in use. In addition, it had to provide complete protection from the corrosive sand and the heat that are a part of everyday life at Kennedy.

Partnership

With the help of Lockheed Martin Space Operations— the contractor for launch operations at Kennedy—and private industry, the Space Agency realized that a new kind of lube could go a long way to protect the environment as well as the integrity of a space shuttle mission.

To develop a special lubricant that could meet the stringent requirements for shuttle transport, NASA and Lockheed Martin Space Operations looked to Sun Coast Chemicals of Daytona Inc. (now known as The X-1R Corporation). Founded in 1989, Sun Coast Chemicals had established a shining reputation amongst the racing circuit for manufacturing effective lubricants that were helping drivers and pit crews overcome engine and transmission problems related to heat and wear damage.

Lockheed Martin Space Operations asked Sun Coast Chemicals to formulate an advanced, environmentally friendly spray lubricant to replace the standard lubricant used during transport, and the company accepted the challenge. It brought a team of researchers, consultants, and production personnel to Kennedy to discuss a solution with NASA and Lockheed Martin personnel.

In a matter of weeks, Sun Coast Chemicals produced the solution. This new biodegradable, high-performance lubricant, coined the X-1R Crawler Track Lube, first succeeded in trial tests and then succeeded when applied directly to the crawler.

Product Outcome

In 1996, the company determined there was a market for this new development. During this time, it introduced three products that were derivatives of the base formulation it developed for the NASA application: Train Track Lubricant, which was used to solve wear problems for the Florida Power Corporation’s railroad system; Penetrating Spray Lubricant, which has been applied for rust prevention, loosening corroded bolts, and lubricating joints and hinges; and Biodegradable Hydraulic Fluid, which has an oxidation life of 10,000 hours and has been used widely in processing plants, as well as in sugar, pulp and paper, marine, mining, sawmill, and heavy construction industries (Spinoff 1996).