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Space Shuttle Crane
I had this idea from pictures of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Kennedy Space Center.
About this creation
A large crane that will pick up a space shuttle orbiter and rotate it from a horizontal position to a vertical position then set it back down ready for launch.
The crane can also lift the orbiter when it is standing vertically and rotate it back around to a horizontal position. Please see my space shuttle Discovery page for more information about the orbiter.

The structure uses roughly 200 beams/bricks, is about 32 inches high, 21 inches long and 12 inches wide. The orbiter weighs about 4 pounds, is 21 inches high when standing vertically and 15 inches wide measured from wingtip to wingtip.

Detail of the winches and switches:

Detail of the rear sling. Note the 2 red pins, when the orbiter is being moved from horizontal to vertical only 1 red pin is engaged. In this picture the orbiter is being moved from vertical to horizontal and 2 red pins are engaged, locking the sling in position so it will not pivot around the orbiter.

As a Technic model, this crane is very simple as it doesn’t have many moving parts. The motors and gears that make up the winches were the first part of the crane I made. The biggest challenge was making it large and strong enough, early attempts collapsed or tipped over, resulting in many repairs to my poor little orbiter! I have used up all my bricks, plates and friction pins in my Lego collection, and did place a very small order with Bricklink ($27) I was resourceful enough to only need a few bits and pieces and the crane is a bit mismatched because of this however its operation isn’t affected.

I did a lot of research on the internet about the VAB and its cranes and other lifting devices, I also looked at other Lego models of large container cranes, and I researched the real thing on websites of factories, dockyards and crane manufacturers. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to gather much information about the VAB so I just went ahead and built the crane using my own initiative.

Below are some modifications I made as I thought improvements were needed:

The rear sling. I found it does not need to pivot after all and I added some extra beams reaching back to the OMS pods to supply stronger bracing.

The winches - I wasn't happy with the placement of the motors so repositioned them. I found a 3x5 L shape beam useful here to brace the gears and there is 1 less gear used; this cuts down on friction and gear grinding. The blue winch that winds the string is now positioned closer to the center of the crane where the frame is stronger, this reduces the bending seen previously.

I started out very small, the first prototypes were only about 4 inches square, barely enough to clear the shuttles nose, but this early stage of development was instrumental in figuring out size, strength and gear ratios.

Below are pictures of the crane during development - They show my ideas for winches, crane legs and top frame:

Developing construction techniques: at first I used single beams but these would buckle and weren’t strong enough, so I had the idea of using bricks doubled up. They needed plates sandwiched in between them and joiners to bolt them together.

The crane isn’t perfect as the front part of the frame does buckle and bend slightly under the weight, and it does sway a bit, there is room for improvement however it is sturdy enough and 1 winch can lift a maximum weight of approx 6 pounds. I also tried placing weight upon the top of the frame and I think it can support a maximum of 10 to 15 pound.

But why should a crane stop at space shuttles? Let us see what else we can do:

A crane lifting a crane? I never saw that coming!

Below are pictures of a crawler transporter I built out of the 8275 bulldozer set - very suitable as it is a tracked vehicle with motors and remote control. I removed the top parts of the bulldozer then installed beams with bricks to hold a simple platform made of large plates and tiles from the bulldozers shovel. The first attempt was too fast so I changed the gear ratios as seen in the second picture (not seen is a 8 tooth gear driving a 24 tooth gear) This works fairly well, it carries the orbiter in the vertical and horizontal position, plus has a fair resemblance to the real thing. The battery box is placed in the centre to distribute weight evenly and the IR sensor upside down at the rear. However, movement is quite jerky; why I am unsure but I am happy with the result nonetheless.

Update September 2010

I have made some small mods that I want to list below

The Crawler Transporter is now new and improved, a better platform and structure inside

I bought the Lego Speed Remote Control which I didn't have when I first built this crane. I find it very helpful to control the lift of the orbiter and movement of the Crawler Transporter as I can slow them down to 1/7th of normal speed. This really helps with the very precise movements needed to place an orbiter in it's position, just like the real thing. Installing gears helps even further with control; an idea that I found from Sariel's web page, look him up!

A picture of the feet I use made of large plates rather than bent beams


  June 17, 2010
I found your pages looking into "Technic Machine Engineers Group" conversations. I think you don't need help anymore about how to build strong structure. Yours is amazing. Well done
 I made it 
  September 6, 2009
Quoting Luke Tansell awesome! you can do so much with lego® nowadays! well done! btw, is the shuttle a lego® model or your own?
im glad you like my crane, the shuttle is the 8480 technic set that i expanded upon and improved, see my page for more info about it. i also got the 7470 space shuttle discovery set (not technic) for ideas.
 I like it 
  July 1, 2009
awesome! you can do so much with lego® nowadays! well done! btw, is the shuttle a lego® model or your own?
 I like it 
  April 16, 2009
Wow... not much too look at, but that must be so strong! Those supercars aren't light, and I'm guessing the shuttle is even heavier. As an engineering feat; 5/5.
By craig lewis
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LEGO models my own creation MOCpages toys shop Space Shuttle CraneTechnic

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