Summer 2017

The world’s most extreme house move

Strainstall’s specialised load monitoring equipment played a crucial role in helping safely relocate the Halley Research Station in Antarctica.

Last year the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) approached Strainstall for advice about safely moving its Antarctic research station, Halley VI, it was looking for reassurance that its load-monitoring equipment could withstand the extreme freezing temperatures in the region.

A deep crack had appeared in the ice shelf beneath the Halley VI research station on 31 October 2016 (dubbed the Halloween Crack) and plans were set in place to move it to a safer site 23km away.

This was no mean feat because although the research station was built on huge retractable hydraulic skis it is a significant size (large enough to provide fully-serviced accommodation for 32 people) and towing it across ice in extreme cold presented unprecedented challenges.

BAS was keen to get an accurate picture of the likely impact this load might have on the platform (which is an internationally important scientific platform for atmospheric and space weather observation), on the ice and the towing vehicles. Because the move could only occur in a very small weather window, reliability was a crucial consideration too.

The teams at Strainstall were closely involved in the meticulous research and planning that the move required. Strainstall’s engineers set up special tests of its Scotload shackles with SmartLoad wireless technology (designed to deliver real-time load monitoring information) to ensure the system would function optimally under pressure at extreme temperatures.

Strainstall electronics engineer, Tin Aye explains:

"We used a special environmental chamber to check the load shackles, load display and auxiliary battery case would function between -40C and +70C. The biggest challenge turned out to be finding a suitable battery pack as we discovered commercial batteries just aren’t happy to operate in extreme cold."

After making appropriate low-temperature modifications, a bespoke system was manufactured and transported to the Antarctic. The mission was a huge success and was featured on a BBC Horizon documentary, Antarctica Ice Station Rescue.

Simon Everett, Strainstall’s managing director says:

"The project showcases the expertise of Strainstall’s engineering team to tackle any problem (in this case, extreme cold) and deliver effective solutions."

Ben Norrish, head of vehicles engineering from the British Antarctic Survey adds:

"The load shackles worked perfectly for all of the towing operations, providing operation critical data to the team and enabling a smooth relocation of the station within the time frame."

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