Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Atlantis set for tanking test

The rotating gantry at launch pad 39A is scheduled to swing open to reveal Atlantis this evening in preparation for a tanking test Wednesday morning at Kennedy Space Center.

Crews plan to roll back the 130-foot-tall Rotating Service Structure at 9:30 p.m., perhaps the second-to-last time that operation will be performed with a shuttle on the pad.

If the test is a success, the RSS will be closed and then reopened the day before Atlantis is fueled for the final shuttle mission, targeted to launch at 11:26 a.m. July 8.

The purpose of the test is to make sure more than 100 reinforced beams on the tank's mid-section withstand the tanking process without forming any cracks.

Some of the beams called stringers cracked last fall during fueling of Discovery's tank. The flaws were attributed to a brittle batch of aluminum alloy and stresses that built up during the manufacturing process.

NASA is confident there won't be any problems and the test is simply a precaution, so there won't be any live TV coverage of the event, which begins at 7 a.m. Wednesday.

It could take up to a week to completed inspections of the stringers and confirm the readiness of the Lockheed Martin Corp.-built tank, labeled ET-138, for launch.

The payload for the final mission, featuring a cylindrical, Italian-built module packed with supplies, will be delivered to the pad Thursday.

IMAGE: Bathed in xenon lights, space shuttle Atlantis on June 1 arrived at launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center for its final flight. Credit: NASA/Terry Zaperach

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