Monday, December 21, 2009

Shuttle external tank could be KSC Christmas gift

The barge Pegasus and ship Freedom Star, not Santa's sleigh and reindeer, are on track to deliver a Christmas gift to Kennedy Space Center.

A 15-story shuttle external tank departed Sunday from NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

The roughly 900-mile voyage typically takes six days, placing the arrival at KSC "on or about Christmas day," according to a press release from tank manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

The tank, numbered ET-135, is set to help boost shuttle Discovery into orbit in March -- the second of five shuttle missions planned next year before NASA retires its fleet of three orbiters.

Tanks for the final three scheduled flights are targeted to be completed in February, May and June.

A spare tank for a rescue mission, if needed, is slated for delivery to NASA in September. The tank was partially complete when it was damaged during Hurricane Katrina.

Two tug boats departed Michoud on Sunday evening with ET-135 enclosed in the Pegasus barge.

The tank measures 154 feet long and 28 feet around. It weighs 58,500 pounds empty, and nearly 1.7 million pounds when fueled for flight with more than 500,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

This morning in Gulfport, Miss., the tugs handed the Pegasus and tank over to the Freedom Star, a solid rocket booster retrieval ship piloted by a crew of United Space Alliance employees that typically includes several Brevard County residents.

This NASA blog chronicled the voyage of the previous tank's delivery to KSC in October.

Click here for a fact sheet with more background on external tanks.

PHOTO: The Missile Team walks External Tank-135 to the barge at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, La., on Dec. 20. Credit: Lockheed Martin.


Bruce said...

Is there a difference in the foam on this tank, or is it just the way the photo was taken? It looks rougher in the enlarged photo and lighter in color.

James Dean said...

Bruce: No difference in this tank that I'm aware of...think it's juist the lighting and quality of the photo.