Redesigned space shuttle fuel tank completed
NASA has finished building a redesigned space shuttle fuel tank that was reconfigured to eliminate the debris problem that doomed the shuttle Columbia and its seven astronauts, agency officials said.
Project managers called the step a major advance in returning the US space programme to manned flight after the shuttles were grounded when Columbia broke apart over Texas on February 1, 2003.
The first reconfigured tank was shipped on Friday from a NASA facility near New Orleans to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida as the space agency prepares for shuttle Discovery’s launch in May or early June. The changes are aimed at preventing chunks of insulating foam from breaking off the tank during launch and damaging the shuttle.
The insulating foam prevents ice from forming on the tank when it is filled with 1.9 million litres of supercold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen before liftoff. On the new tank, NASA has reconfigured the struts and fittings where foam was prone to peeling off, and installed heaters to prevent ice from forming. The new tank has cameras that will allow ground workers to monitor for damage as the shuttle ascends.
NASA has also retrained the technicians who apply some of the insulating foam with spray guns, in the hope of reducing gaps in the foam. The gaps can let gases to seep in and expand as the tank heats up during launch, popping off chunks of the foam.