Efforts to check the thousands of gap fillers on the belly of each of NASA’s three Orbiters are on schedule, as NASA continues to build towards a resumption of flights next May.
The slices of fabric – which stop the tiles on the Orbiter’s Thermal Protection System (TPS) from ‘chattering’ on ascent – are being “pull tested” to ensure they have been stuck firmly into place.
The tests were implemented after two of the gap fillers on the belly of Discovery protruded during the Shuttle’s ride uphill – and then spotted while on orbit. That triggered a historic EVA from astronaut Steve Robinson, who pulled the two gap fillers out, while being watched by a live TV audience, announcing at the conclusion of the spacewalk that ‘this big patient is now cured.’
The decision to remove the two gap fillers came after managers and engineers concluded a possible – albeit slight – risk of detrimental aerodynamic forces during re-entry from the protruding pieces of fabric.
With evaluations on the ground deciding that all of the gap fillers need to be tested to check their adhesive qualities, United Space Alliance engineers are currently working on both Discovery and Atlantis, before moving on to Endeavour.
‘Gap filler pull tests are proceeding on schedule,’ noted KSC’s Space Shuttle spokesperson Jessica Rye.
As of late last week, Discovery’s gap filler pull test is 90 percent complete, with the current count of 2,500 gap fillers needing to be removed and replaced. 10-20 percent of the process has been completed on Atlantis, while workers will start the same process on Endeavour early in the new year.
Also mentioned on last week’s Shuttle Standup report was the training of technicians and the construction of tools needed for the replacement process – which currently stands at 30 percent complete.
Currently, Discovery is set to launch early in May, 2006 on STS-121.
For the latest news on Discovery’s processing towards STS-121, click here: