Inventor of the Orbital Welding Head
28 February 2001
Gasparas Kazlauskas, the inventor of the Orbital Welding head, was employed with North American Aviation. There, as Senior Mechanical Design Engineer, he worked with Resistance Welding. Later, he was tasked with developing a welding machine that would be used for the Space Nuclear Auxiliary Power (SNAP I/II) project. The SNAP I/II program required the manufacture of a tube bundle using D-shaped tubes in a close fit. 28" diameter at the top and 14" diameter at the bottom with a length of 10 foot. The bundles held Sodium at 800°F and in the space environment of -400°F, a reaction took place that generated power. The tube welder was designed to make the welds in this tube bundle.
Mr. Kazlauskas, would be assigned to the XB-70 Bomber program. A program that started with an order of 60 aircraft in 1958, reduced to 11 the next year and finally, in 1960, only two were needed. Despite the program reduction, this is where the development of the orbital welder continued.
Mr. Kazlauskas has 25 patents to his name. Most notably is the patent that he filed on 30 September 1964. Issued 30 July 1968 as US Patent 3 395 262.
Another patent is Patent (US) 3 400 237, applied 1 Dec. 1964 which describes the technique of the melt-through (autogenous) weld
Mr. Kazlauskas reiterated the specificity of his contribution. He miniaturized the equipment that became the orbital welding head. The need began with a tube bundle for SNAP I/II and the XB-70 further developed the equipment. Other commercial equipment were available but was “clumsy”.
One last patent he discussed (US 4 810 848, 7 Mar 1989) was another welding head which not for commercial use and ultimately the need went away. It cost $100,000 to make it work.