Skip to comments.NASA Rolls Out Improved Rocket Fuel Tank in Major Step Toward Return to Space
Posted on 12/28/2004 12:03:32 PM PST by BenLurkin
WASHINGTON (AP) - NASA takes a major step toward returning astronauts to space when engineers this week ship an improved rocket fuel tank that has been refitted to avoid the falling debris that caused the destruction of Columbia and the death of seven astronauts. National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials said that the redesigned fuel tank, a massive vessel that supplies propellant for the launch of the space shuttle, will start a barge trip on Friday from a Mississippi assembly plant to the launch site on Florida's east coast.
Sandy Coleman, NASA's external tank project manager, said improvements made on the fuel tank "gives us confidence that problems like what happened on Columbia will not happen again.
"This is the safest, most reliable tank NASA has ever produced," Coleman said Tuesday in a telephone news conference from the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
The changes in the external tank add less than 150 pounds in weight. The total cost of the new tank, including tests and redesign, is still being calculated, but it will be more expensive than the $40 million cost of the old-style tank, said Coleman.
Coleman said the tank was expected to start on Friday a barge trip from the Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans to the Kennedy Space Center. The barge journey, which crosses the Gulf of Mexico, rounds the tip of Florida and then up the east coast, takes five to six days.
NASA plans a May or June launch of space shuttle Discovery. The space shuttle fleet has been grounded since the Columbia accident as NASA scrambled to make changes in hardware, procedures and personnel to comply with recommendations from the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.
Fixing the external tank was a key part of the NASA's recovery, officials said.
The tank holds the liquid hydrogen and oxygen which are the propellants for the shuttle's main rocket engines during launch. The supercooled chemicals cause the formation of ice on the outside of the tank as the shuttle is prepared for launch.
Insulation, applied as a foam, reduces the amount of ice. But investigators believe it was chunks of foam insulation that peeled off the external tank during launch which led to the destruction of Columbia. The debris, moving at a high relative speed, ripped a hole in the left wing of the space shuttle. On Feb. 1, 2003, as the spacecraft re-entered the Earth's atmosphere, superheated gas penetrated the wing through the hole and melted metal struts. The craft shattered, showering east Texas with flaming debris. Seven astronauts were killed.
The Columbia Accident Investigation panel conducted tests to prove that chunks of the light weight foam insulation could cause the damage that was fatal to Columbia. The tests included using an air canon to fire foam insulation chunks at test wing panels.
To correct the problem, engineers from NASA and Lockheed Martin Space Systems, manufacturer of the fuel tanks, conducted extensive tests to find out why the foam insulation broke loose during launch.
This led to several changes including new ways of applying the foam insulation, the addition of heaters at key points to prevent the formation of ice before launch, and adding cameras that can monitor the outside of the tank during launch.
"We can never completely eliminate foam coming off the tank," Coleman said Tuesday. But she said tests suggest that any debris that does fly free will not cause damage like that which destroyed Columbia.
Redesign of the external tank was considered to be a key and critical part of NASA's effort to return the shuttle to space, but is only one of a long list of recommendations from the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. NASA also is designing ways to check for launch damage to the space shuttle after the vehicle is in orbit. The agency is also developing ways for spacewalking astronauts to fix damage to wing panels like that which destroyed Columbia.
Glad it is done.
You've got to be kidding. Clearly we need to spend more on public schools (teachers).
Problems with foam shedding began when NASA decided to stop painting the ET white in order to save several hundred pounds.
Start painting the damn thing again, seal the foam from being soaked with every rain.
Is that all?
A shuttle launch costs about 500 million dollars.
Chicken wire might help. Not sure what weight it would add.
Maybe a plastic mesh?
I thought Algor made them switch to an "enviromentally friendly" foam produced by a campaign donor?
I did not know (or forgot) that they stopped painting it.
Perhaps a partial painting in key areas.
"Originally, the ET was covered with a layer of white protective paint, however after the first two test flights this largely cosmetic cover was abandoned to save weight. During the sixth flight of the program, which was also an inaugural mission of Space Shuttle Challenger, a new lightweight version of the tank was introduced."
It's about time, after how many Missions where this problem occured, and they were aware of it.
Michoud should have benn put out of business, and a new contract drawn up for someone else.
Anyone remember my posts from back then??
Yeah, and I remember a NASA guy bragging about in-orbit tile repair kits, after a bunch of tiles fell off.
Provisioning of that kit was abandoned to save weight.
But plenty of weight allowances and space available to over-staff culturally marxist crews,
selected politicians, etc.
So much for safety.
At least NASA abandoned the "Journalist in Space" idea.
You think that is extreme, the cost for the new gas can, and the cost of a launch! Go do some research and look into the pollution one lanuch from this rocket motor. You would be totally devasted of the amount of the pollution this thing emits! Sadily nobody wants to talk about the chemicals this thing is doing to the air we brethe!
No! The endowment for the arts!
Anybody know when they plan to start using those Maglev launchers so they can do away with the fuel tanks altogether???
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