Warren manufacturer helps build NASA rocket to the moon

Breana Noble
The Detroit News
Astronaut Josh Cassada looks at a piece of an internal platform that will be used in the core stage of the Space Launch System (SLS) while being given a tour Tuesday of the Futuramic Tool & Engineering facility in Warren, by Vice President John Couch.

Warren — Houston, NASA is ready for liftoff — well, almost, thanks to a Warren-based design and build business.

Futuramic Tool & Engineering contributed more than 100 parts to the creation of a National Aeronautics and Space Administration rocket. Under an accelerated timeline, the rocket is expected to launch into space in 2020, take astronauts to the moon under an accelerated timeline by 2024 and, eventually, travel to Mars. For Futuramic's work in meeting tight deadlines, NASA honored the company Tuesday with its Supplier of the Year Award.

"Who would have imagined this company would be helping put boots on the moon with eyes to Mars when the founder first opened its doors in 1955?" said John Couch, Futuramic vice president. "It is the realization of the American dream for me, for our employees and for the company."

A dome tool Futuramic made in NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. It has been used to make domes for the Space Launch System's propellant tanks.

NASA is preparing a series of increasingly complex missions to create a sustained presence on the moon. The $5.7 billion Space Launch System deep-space rocket to which Futuramic contributed is the only rocket that can send the Orion spacecraft, astronauts and supplies to the moon on a single mission. Its 8.8 million pounds of thrust is more powerful than any other rocket, said Marcia Lindstrom, manager of strategic communications for the launch system.

"This is the backbone of deep-space exploration, more importantly, human deep space exploration," she said.

Futuramic has worked on the project for about 10 years, Couch said. But its work had to move at lightspeed when President Donald Trump called NASA to move up its timeline from 2028 to 2024.

In January, the agency told Chicago-based Boeing Co. — which is building the launch system's core stage where the rocket's fuel tanks and engines are held — it had to deliver the section in 2019, a four-and-a-half month acceleration, said Craig Williams, Boeing Space Launch System core stage integrated product team director. Boeing also had to build the rocket's largest section horizontally instead of vertically as it had been planning for the past seven years because of the configuration of NASA's Michaud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

"It was a heroic effort," Williams said. "Futuramic was there every step of the way."

Warren-based Futuramic Tool & Engineering contributed more than a 100 parts to the building of the Space Launch System's core stage, which is the backbone of the rocket.

The company turned around a 60,000-pound tool on which one of the engines will sit from concept to creation in 42 days. It produced an internal access platform to go inside the rocket's boattail and engine section in six weeks. Futuramic also made 10 other new tools to help with the sideways assembly adjustment.

"It was 24/7; we worked around the clock designing and fabricating and shipping it all," Couch said. "I'm very proud to see it come together."

Futuramic also designed and completed initial assembly on simulators for the liquid oxygen tank and liquid hydrogen tank structural test articles. They are identical to flight tanks in the core stage and will allow engineers to apply millions of pound of forces on the tanks to ensure the rocket is safe to fly.

On a mission, the tanks hold 733,000 gallons of propellant to help power the rocket’s four RS-25 engines that will send the Space Launch System and Orion to the moon.

Futuramic also designed, built and installed the SLS Dome Rounding and Break Over Tool. It rounds a dome before the dome is placed on top or bottom of the fuel tanks. Such tools are vital in keeping the core stage on target for completion in 2019, according to NASA.

The administration last week named its moon missions Artemis 1, 2 and 3. In 2020, the mission will take the uncrewed launch system and Orion around the moon to ensure the parts are communicating. In 2022, astronauts will travel further than any human has ever on a similar path, and in 2024, the first astronauts, including the first female astronaut, will land on the moon's south pole. According to this timeline, a person could land on Mars — a nine-month trip — in as early as the 2030s.

The rocket will launch at Florida's Kennedy Space Center. More than 1,000 companies from 44 states have contributed.

Astronaut Josh Cassada, right, pins a silver Snoopy award onto 40-year employee Matthew Ososky during an event at the Futuramic Tool & Engineering facility in Warren, Tuesday. The award has traveled to space and is given by astronauts to NASA employees and contractors in recognition of their work with flight safety or mission success.

NASA also is working with commercial partners in low-orbit ventures to complement its deep-space aspiration. Next year, Boeing's Crew Space Transportation-100 Starliner will take four astronauts, including Cmdr. Josh Cassada, an Albion College alumnus, to the International Station Station for six months to maintain the orbiting station and conduct research. That is a three-hour trip.

"For me, I'm excited to lead and to pay a role in what we do next," Cassada said. "That allows us to develop those systems and perfect those systems on orbit so we can go to deep space, so we can go to the moon, so we can go to Mars."

Cassada on Tuesday also granted Matthew Ososky, a 40-year Futuramic employee who began in manufacturing and worked his way to become a tool designer, with a Silver Snoopy award to celebrate outstanding performance, an honor bestowed on fewer than 1% of the aerospace workforce program. The award is a sterling silver Snoopy lapel pin that has flown in space on a space shuttle mission. Ososky's was on Discovery's STS-119 trip in March 2009 and orbited Earth more than 200 times.

"I just want to thank God," Ososky said, "for giving me the blessing and opportunity to work for such a great company, for a great bunch of people and for a great country."