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LIGO Hanford Observatory News

Article 1: Hanford Buildings Swarming With Staff!
Article 2: Goodbye, CB&I

Hanford Buildings Swarming with Staff!

- Contributed by Rick Savage and Fred Raab

Operations Support Building

The Operations Support Building (OSB) at the LIGO Hanford Observatory has opened for business. The OSB houses the offices, the control and computer rooms, and also the optics and electronics laboratories. The resident observatory staff moved from their temporary trailers into the OSB on October 30, 1997. Shortly thereafter--November 6-7, to be exact--the observatory hosted the fall meeting of the LIGO Program Advisory Committee (PAC), which included approximately fifty people. Were we confident the building would be ready on schedule? You bet--the PAC meeting was booked six months in advance! Other than a few remaining "punch list" items, such as touching up the paint, the OSB is now fully operational and the staff is growing familiar with the sophisticated facility monitoring and control system.

Shown above is a photograph of the OSB taken on February 25, 1998. The columns and curved wall (at right) are the main entrance, and the long windows (at center) belong to the main office area. The tall, white and blue structure in the background is the Laser and Vacuum Equipment Area. Visible just above the OSB are the stairs leading to the observation deck. Our resident staff now numbers twelve and there are typically between two to five visiting staff at the site on any normal day. One much-appreciated benefit of the new building is the availability at long last of flush toilets, a most welcome amenity after more than a year of "roughing it" on site!

We have tried to economize on the new building wherever possible. For example, almost all the furniture was acquired through government surplus, which conserved a great deal of money. Savings like these help pay for other items, such as the landscaping seen in the photo. This landscaping provides an attractive appearance, but it was actually performed to remediate desert soil disturbed in constructing LIGO. Hanford experiences severe winds, often powerful enough to scoop out as much as 18 inches of the sandy soil in a single storm. But the new landscaping put an end to that! The winds still try to battle back in the form of invading tumbleweeds. Left unchecked these weeds would drift onto our roads, causing further problems. The solution we have adopted is to use a hay-baling machine to bale the tumbleweeds! (A few of the tumbleweeds bales can be seen in the foreground of the photo.) These are then deposited onto naturally-eroding sand dunes near the end-station. Eventually this should help the naturally-occurring vegetation to recolonize the sand dunes.

The next big meeting for our new building will be the LIGO Science Collaboration meeting in March. Currently we expect a crowd of about 90 people!


Goodbye, CB&I

- Contributed by Fred Raab

On February 10, 1998, Brad Shaw turned in his keys to the LIGO facilities in Hanford, Washington. Brad was the last employee of Chicago Bridge & Iron (CB&I) to leave the LIGO Hanford Observatory site. Driving off site as killdeer were starting to call their mates for a fresh season of renewal, Brad was leaving behind him a monumental structure--one of the largest vacuum systems in the world. Brad, his CB&I colleagues, and LIGO's engineers and physicists had a product of which to be proud.

Stretching out through the sagebrush, the two orthogonal arms of the LIGO vacuum system each measure two and a half miles long and are easily visible on the commuter flights between Pasco and Seattle. The vacuum volume of the tubes is about 9,000 cubic meters, comparable to the capacity of 15,000 typical kitchen refrigerators. The tubes currently sit under vacuum, having passed our leak-free certification, and are wrapped in thermal insulation in preparation for the upcoming bake out.

Working in mobile clean room

It was about June of 1996 that CB&I began outfitting a two-acre, enclosed warehouse space in the Port of Pasco facilities for the purposes of fabricating sections of the LIGO Beam Tube. "Big Pasco," as it is called, is a vast block of wooden warehouses nestled along the Snake River in Pasco, Washington. Sitting about a mile east of where the Lewis and Clark expedition first entered what is now the Tri-Cities, Big Pasco was built during the Second World War and the mighty timbers that make up these buildings are reminiscent of a time long past.

Loading beam tubes on truck

Ken Drake and his team transformed this facility, installing the huge and impressive machinery that would take rolls of stainless steel from the mills and turn out ultra-high vacuum tube sections, built to an oil-pipe budget. Following a script that would be comfortable in a James Bond flick, the team of less than 40 people landed, installed the huge factory, built the tube, disassembled their equipment, and then moved on to do it again in Louisiana--all in about a calendar year.

Welding beam tubes

The field team--see photos--had the job of taking the handoff from Big Pasco and forming 400 ultraclean tube sections into four separate weldments, each about one and a quarter mile lines long. This all had to be done under clean room conditions in the middle of the desert Northwest. The solution was to pressurize the tube with Class 100 air as it was formed and to employ roving shelters for fit-up, welding, leak-checking, etcetera.

The people managing this project--Larry Jones and Rai Weiss for LIGO; Lance Bubholz, Ken Drake and Vance Gervais for CB&I--are now engrossed in the Livingston Beam Tube project. But when they can find a moment to reflect, they should take pride in their teams' accomplishments at Hanford.