Launch Vehicle Alignment Survey at VAFB earns ACEC Award at State Level

January 25, 2012, Santa Barbara, CA – What does Penfield & Smith, a Santa Barbara based engineering and surveying firm have to do with a rocket launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base? P&S surveyors performed two Launch Vehicle Alignment Surveys in 2011 for United Launch Alliance at VAFB and in doing so, earned a Merit Award in the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) California 2012 Engineering Excellence Awards.

Prior to the launch of an Atlas 5 Launch Vehicle, a check of certain components of the launch vehicle (a.k.a. “rocket”) alignment is required during assembly on the launch pad. A change in circumstance prevented performance of the survey by United Launch Alliance (ULA) personnel and Penfield & Smith was called in at the last minute. ULA operates the Atlas 5 Launch Vehicle program at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

There are three components to the vehicle alignment procedures which require survey. First is the booster stage vertical alignment, verifying that the first stage of the launch vehicle is sitting plumb when installed on the launch heads. Second is the rotational alignment of the Centaur stage with  respect to the booster stage. (The centaur stage contains the guidance system and the directional rocket engines which it uses to maneuver the payload into orbit.) The stages share the same vertical axis, but have different horizontal coordinate systems. Third is the rotational alignment of the “Centaur Forward Load Reactor” (CFLR) ring with respect to the “Boat-tail” mounted at the bottom of the Centaur stage. The Payload Fairing, which houses and protects the Centaur and payload, is attached to the launch vehicle at the Boat-tail and CFLR, which must line up precisely.

John J. Sigafoos Jr., the Mechanical Operations Lead Engineer for United Launch Alliance had this to say about the project, “Penfield & Smith’s thorough preparation, application of precision measurement methods, and professional skill and judgment resulted in successfully satisfying [the pre-launch] requirements with no impact to operations for the AV-025 and AV-027 launches. The AV-027 mission had the further challenge of determining the Atlas first stage "pre-cant". This "pre-cant" verification defined the vertical adjustment needed for the three launch heads to result in the stage vertically aligned after a Solid Rocket Booster was mounted. This task was also flawlessly accomplished in real time.”

The ACEC EEA Awards are considered “the Academy Awards of the engineering industry”, honoring the year’s most outstanding engineering accomplishments. The Launch Vehicle Alignment Survey was entered into the Surveying and Mapping Technology category. Submissions from throughout the state of California are rated on the basis of uniqueness and innovative applications; future value to the engineering profession; perception by the public; social, economic, and sustainable development considerations; complexity; and successful fulfillment of client/owner’s needs, including schedule and budget. Winners of the 2012 competition will be recognized at the Engineering Awards Banquet on February 7, 2012 in Sacramento.

About Penfield & Smith Engineers
Penfield & Smith has been providing quality services throughout central and southern California since 1946. The award-winning firm provides engineering, surveying, planning and construction management to private and public sector clients.  Headquartered in Santa Barbara, Penfield & Smith has regional offices in Santa Maria, Camarillo and Lancaster. For more information about Penfield & Smith Engineers, please visit our website at or contact