Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Discovery Tank Passes Initial Foam Testing At KSC

NASA and contractor engineers have run more than two dozen tests on the external tank for the upcoming launch of shuttle Discovery and found no indications that it might shed foam like the tank flown on Endeavour's launch last week.

An unusual amount of thin foam insulation peeled away from the intertank section of Endeavour's tank during the July 15 launch of its ongoing International Space Station assembly mission. The intertank structurally connects the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen vessels inside the bottom and top of the tank, respectively.

The flyaway foam caused some minor damage to thermal tiles on the underside of Endeavour but none deemed serious enough to require a focused inspection.

Nonetheless, NASA managers want to understand the cause of the foam loss before committing Discovery and an International Space Station outfitting crew to launch next month. NASA's current target date is Aug. 21, said Kyle Herring, a spokesman for NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

NASA and contractor engineers have carried out 26 tests aimed at determining whether the foam insulation on the intertank of Discovery's tank -- designated ET-132 -- is adhering properly to a substrate primer on the aluminum-lithium skin of the tank.

In each case, the foam remained bonded to the primer.

NASA now is determining how much additional testing might be required, and whether different types of tests should be performed before Discovery is rolled over from its Kennedy Space Center processing hangar to the Vehicle Assembly Building and mated with the tank.

The earliest the move might take place is Friday.

ABOUT THE IMAGE: Click to enlarge and save the NASA image of contractor workers performing foam adhesion testing on the external tank designated for the launch of Discovery in August. You can also click the enlarged image to get an even bigger, more detailed view. Photo credit: NASA/Tim Jacobs.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the update. It has been awfully quite on this one. The orbitor is stuck in the OPF and the payloads are in the SSPF awaiting the plan. I have a feeling if we did not have a mission working right now this would be getting a lot more attention. Hopefully they find a smoking gun and can take care of it - otherwise it is going to be a painful FRR.

Anonymous said...

My guess is the extended time out at the 2 pads prior to launch. Florida's wonderful elements might have got to it. A little sun, wind and rain. Along with multiple tanking cycles. Just my opinion for what it's worth.

Conor said...

Or a nanufacturing defect as all they can do is check that there isn't one on this tank. I don't think they will ever know for sure, and that they will decide it is safe to launch on time. Any one of the three possible causes makes it a one-off.

Craig said...

I'm with Anonymous. The tank on Endeavour was outside in the hot summer sun (and other elements) for an awfully long time.