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How to move a 200-ton spectrometer across Europe (fogonazos.es)
157 points by lelf on July 24, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 49 comments

For those wondering why you'd need such a thing, here's the KATRIN project's website:


and the wikipedia article:


In short, it's an experiment to directly measure the mass of the electron-type neutrino. Very occasionally, when tritium beta-decays, the electron carries away all the energy. If the neutrino has mass (and we are rather certain [1] that it does), then there's a little less energy to carry away. The giant MAC-E spectrometer (actually a chain of them, of which the big one is the last) is the only known way of resolving the 13,000 electron-volt electron to less than an electron-volt.

It's a very hard experiment, but it's important, and nobody knows an easier terrestrial path to the same knowledge (cosmology limits are equal to or better than KATRIN, but there's a big difference between the cosmos and something you can do on Earth).

(Edit: and for you vacuum jocks out there, that entire volume operates at UHV. It's electropolished internally, and for their vacuum test, it pumped to below 10^-7 Torr on a single 6-8" turbo before bakeout.)

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutrino#Mass

To followup: neutrinos have been established to have mass from neutrino oscillation experiments but those experiments have left a fairly large range of possible masses for neutrinos. Experiments like KATRIN will further pin down the properties of neutrinos as well as their rest mass.

Zeppelins could solve transport scenarios just like this one, where you must transport a huge cargo from/to specific locations far from the shore:


However, after hearing about this comeback for at least a decade, I'm a bit skeptic it will ever come true.

One of these efforts graced the Berlin, Germany area with a huge hangar: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CargoLifter

Luckily, they found a new use for the structure: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropical_Islands_Resort

This seems like a project for Elon Musk

Awesome use for that structure.

The Zeppelin this article talks about could still only potentially lift 66 tonnes, less than a third of the weight of this spectrometer. But yeah, a zeppelin with sufficient lift would be a very good solution to this problem.

edit yes, "over the long term" they say they could build an airship with a 500 tons lift capability, but that seems far away.

Look at the size of the hangar: (people for scale)


All this for an unsucessful zeppelin that could carry less than the required 200 tons. You'll be convinced very quickly that it doesn't trump simply carrying by land.

my first thought as well. The CL160, a Starrluftschiff (rigid airship?) alias Zeppelin, was planned to lift 160t.

I wished there would one fly over me from time to time.

Would high helium prices prevent this nowadays?

My first thought was why not just evacuate it, given that it's a vacuum vessel? It doesn't work though. Making some gross assumptions about its dimensions, its buoyancy when empty would be the weight of a few tons. Not enough to lift itself!

You'd have to use hydrogen. It's more dangerous of course, but it should be doable.

Similar problem in the United States, moving a massive electromagnet from Brookhaven to Fermilab: http://muon-g-2.fnal.gov/bigmove/gallery.shtml

It's a whole different thing, but they moved a 340 ton rock across Los Angeles County a few years ago. I have some pictures from when they parked it a few blocks away.


See also: "Transporting the [Lockheed] A-12s to Area 51" at http://www.roadrunnersinternationale.com/transporting_the_a-...

I wonder what the budgetary breakdown was between building and transporting. It sounds like a project management screwup to me. Poor initial specs, Delayed scope creep.

The opposite solution is to be arbitrarily constrained by the transportation's environment. This is what NASA has done, their modules and engine parts are made to fit within the dimensions of the tunnels between the point of manufacture and the launch site where they assemble it all together.

Shouldn't this have been better planned out before they built it? Or was there no other choice?

I'm sure they had one of those "Oh..." moments when they realized there was something that didn't quite work out.

There are a few moments in recent history where I wish I had been. This is one of them, along with the day after the 2007 iPhone keynote in the Android 1 offices, and when the French company realized they'd built their trains 1cm too wide for a thousand platforms [1].

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/french-rail-o...

Actually, I'm pretty sure that this was planned and budgeted for very early in the project. This is highly specialized gear that you cannot just build smaller, let alone shop around for a maker closer to you.

Having been involved with a couple of large collaboration physics experiments (but not this one) I can relate my experience that everything is planned in advance in frustratingly great detail. I'd assume that someone promised to be able to transport it via the short route, and was simply unable to deliver, or that the design specs had to be changed after the contracts had been let or something to that effect.

edit: Note here that they started planning at or before 2001 http://www.katrin.kit.edu/130.php#Anker10

Is it possible to have multiple helicopters work together to lift one object? If so, 10 of these could have done it :)


Hard to see how ten helicopters could maintain enough horizontal separation to work safely while carrying the load.

An airship might be a better alternative.

Or combine both, and you get a Piasecki PA97 Helistat.

It worked poorly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7jENWKgMPY

Great share! That frame looked weak to the naked eye. Screw engineering calculations: anyone who's played a bridge-building game should have seen it coming!

video blocked in the UK due to legal complaint :(

They could build a wide platform beneath it so the anchor points would be further apart.

Assuming the 10 helicopters fly a 3-2-3-2 formation at the same height.

Consider a line of three helicopters. According to Wikipedia the rotor diameter of the Mi-26 is 32 metres. Assuming that each helicopter is separated so that the tips of the rotors are also separated by 32 meters from its neighbours [1]. This gives us a distance of 128 metres between the rotational centre of the two outermost helicopters.

The corresponding distance between the front and rear rows of helicopters would be 160 metres.

So you'd need a 128x160 metre frame to carry the 24 metre long spectrometer. Due to its size and the need to support the 200 ton weight of the instrument, the frame itself (including the necessary cross-braces) will be extremely heavy. So you'd need to add more helicopters to lift the frame, which means it would have to be bigger to allow for their necessary separation... And making it bigger makes it heavier...

[1] A guess. I suspect they'd need more than that.

[2] I am not a mechanical engineer

only 5 of these


or just one of this, though you'd need to arrange for transport to/from the airports


I never understood why, if the AN-225 is so insanely useful, only one has ever been build. Surely there would be economic benefit in building another few?

The An-124 is the useful large cargo plane. The 225 is more or less a larger version of that for specialized cargo that is rarely needed thus one being enough to service the entire world. If the demand was there I'm sure a second one could be finished quite quickly.

Quote the first paragraph of the linked article: "A second airframe was partially built; its completion was halted because of lack of funding and interest."

Seems it's not so insanely useful that a second one is needed.

If even that single one isn't fully booked, how would multiple planes with 10% utilization each justify their building costs?

Reminds a bit of moving the Space Shuttle Endeavor across Los Angeles:


I'm scratching my head as to why they couldn't ship the various pieces, and construct it in place instead ... but I'm not the expert.

I really have a hard time believing there was no lower cost solution for a 400 km trip by land as opposed to a 9000 km trip by land, sea, and land.

What about an off road heavy transport trailer for the sections of road they can' t fit through. Or a quick build bridge structure similar to what is used by the military? Or some sort of land version of a lock (water transport)?

This is the middle of Germany. "Off road" means "across someone else's property, destroying a large strip of it". It looks like they had enough trouble getting it the last 7km.

I presume the height of it means it won't fit under bridges on either road or canal.

Right. The better way to look at is is that once you exceed the size of the roads, land is extremely expensive to cross, while water is extremely cheap. So a 8993 km water journey + 7 km land journey can easily be cheaper than a 400 km land journey.

Im a bit surprised that that thing fit under all the bridges on the Danube

Germany is also home to enormously gigantic machines like the Bagger 288 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagger_288) that are so enormous you can see them from space.

The scale of this thing is staggering. In one incident it accidentally scooped up a bulldozer: http://imgur.com/gallery/rU3XU

Also shown there is what it looks like when it's on the move along a carefully planned and prepared route: http://i.imgur.com/51x5NIR.jpg?1

I'm sure the budget for moving a scientific device isn't as huge as something involved in mineral extraction where time equals money.

You can't see that thing from space.

With optics you definitely would, but with optics you can see a single human from space.

It wouldn't take more than binoculars. The bare patch of ground this thing has made is gigantic.

It's not just the digger, there's this conveyor system that's an integral part of the system that looks miles long.


Jeebus that thing is huge. That wasn't a small bulldozer. It's not the biggest they make but it's definitely no joke. It weighs 18 tons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caterpillar_D6

This is from the tributary of the Danube to that of the Rhine, so there will be mountains in between. There may be tunnels, but I bet they aren't large enough for this.

Any company building this kind of stuff will be familiar with the problem of shipping stuff to the customer.

So, I guesstimate that this problem and the solution were foreseen before they started construction.

Most of that distance is on fairly calm waters, and they got it as close as 7km of the destination, without having to create ad hoc one-time solutions and live test them with the product to deliver. Any difference in cost is probably tiny compared with the value of that instrument.

Assuming they could even get permission for a land route given the usual max weight is 40 tonnes, not 200.

they must have, they went by land to and from the sea.

Not according to this article. They went by river to and from the sea.

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