Thursday, May 07, 2009

Live at KSC: External Tank Arrives for Discovery

The 15-story external tank that will help boost shuttle Discovery into orbit during a targeted August liftoff has arrived by barge at Kennedy Space Center's turn basin.

The familiar orange tank - dubbed ET-132 and the 128th built by Lockheed Martin Corp. - began its 900-mile journey from NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans last Friday.

Only five more tanks await delivery to KSC, where three tanks are now on site, including those attached to Atlantis and Endeavour on launch pads 39A and 39B, respectively.

One more tank is in production that would service a shuttle mission not yet on the manifest, if funding for it is approved. NASA's budget blueprint for the 2010 fiscal year says "an additional flight may be conducted if it can safely and affordably be flown by the end of 2010."

The external tank, measuring 154 feet tall and 28 feet in diameter, will be removed from the covered barge Pegasus onto a transporter and rolled into the spaceport's 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building.

When loaded with more than 500,000 gallons of super-cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, the tank will weigh more than 1.6 million pounds.

Click here to see a fact sheet with more ET stats.

Lockheed Martin said ET-132 was the first that employed a process called "friction stir welding" on some liquid hydrogen tank barrel welds, rather than traditional fusion welding. The process, which does not melt materials, produces more efficient weld joints yielding 80 percent of base material strength, according to the company.

IMAGE NOTE: External Tank-132 arrived by barge today at Kennedy Space Center's turning basin. The tank is targeted to launch with shuttle Discovery in August. Cell phone photos taken by Florida Today reporter James Dean.

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