Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Heat shields shows minor damage so far, but analysis continues

NASA analysts continue to review images from Discovery's heat shield inspection Tuesday, but so far they see nothing that would stop the crew from installing a large cargo carrier on the International Space Station overnight.

The analysis so far has focused on the starboard wing, because installation of the Italian-built cargo carrier named Leonardo could block parts of the wing from reach by cameras if managers saw damage that needed closer inspection.

LeRoy Cain, deputy shuttle program manager, said he was confident no "focused" inspection would be needed in that area, and said the overall outlook for Discovery is good.

"So far, of all the data that we've looked at, we have no concerns yet, but we have a good bit of data to go through," he said following a meeting of mission managers.

Cain noted a few areas where damage has occurred that is not believed to be significant to Discovery's 13-day mission.

A portion of a black tile that wraps around the trailing edge of the rudder speed brake on the orbiter's tail fin tore away during Discovery's launch Monday.

The L-shaped tile, installed on the orbiter when it was built in 1982, exists primarily as protection from heat generated by the shuttle main engines during ascent. The lost tile isn't expected to be an issue for re-entry, but engineers are conducting a full analysis to make sure, Cain said.

A "gap filler" between tiles around the forward Reaction Control System steering jets is protruding, and there is an apparent ding to the black topcoat of a tile on the left external tank umbilical door.

"It's not going to require a focused inspection, it doesn't look like," Cain said.

The inspection data has been downloaded from space station computers since Discovery's crew boarded around 5:15 a.m. today. The failure of Discovery's high-speed data antenna prevented the usual transmission prior to docking.

Cain said busy network traffic with all of the activity on the station slowed the downlink somewhat, but the mission remains on schedule.

The shuttle crew is scheduled to awake at 8:21 p.m. About two hours later they will remove Leonardo (shown above in Discovery's payload bay) for installation on the station's Harmony module after midnight.

The cylindrical carrier, technically called a Multi-Purpose Logistics Carrier, or MPLM, holds 17,000 pounds of equipment, supplies and science experiments.

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