NASA, Lockheed target STS-116 solutions

by Chris Bergin

NASA managers are drawing up plans to save the December launch window for Discovery’s STS-116 mission, the third planned flight of the Shuttle in 2006.

The main issue relates to the External Tank (ET-124) that will be required for Atlantis in her supporting LON (Launch On Need) rescue mission role (STS-317). The lifting of night launch constraints is also being considered, along with a launch window extension.

*STS-116 Live Update pages*

STS-116’s mission, currently NET (No Earlier Than) December 14, will see Discovery making her second mission of the year, carrying the P5 truss element, Spacehab-SM and ICC to the International Space Station.

Information supplied by sources note that STS-116’s December window is currently classed as ‘RED’ due to processing flows and the uncertainly that ET-124 will arrive in time to support STS-317’s NET 9th of February launch date requirement.

‘STS-116 is red for December due to PF and LON ET processing challenges,’ official notes claim. ‘The program is working to resolve these issues and keep this launch in December.’

Moves are also being made to extend the short launch window for STS-116, including the removal of the night time launch constraint

‘Move to night ops for launch is being considered for STS-116 and subs,’ added the notes. ‘This will be assessed after STS-115 and depend directly upon ET performance from 121 and 115. There is also interest in relaxing the docked solar beta constraint in order to provide more launch opportunities.’

While processing issues are unknown, ET-124 is known to be in a tight flow, with all hands at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) currently tending to the final processing of ET-123 – which will fly with Discovery herself on STS-116.

Solutions may come from MAF themselves, who are looking to improve the turnaround of their ETs, ahead of a busy final run of flights prior to the 2010 retirement of the Shuttle fleet.

The solutions are being ‘sponsored’ by Lockheed Martin’s ET Project Vice President Wanda Sigur, which include initiatives such as the LM21 Critical Path Hardware Transformation Process Review.

Two teams of six people, from areas of production called ‘Greenbelt’ and ‘Blackbelt’, have been looking at shaving off processing flows for the tanks by studying the day-to-day processes on the tanks, as they head through the New Orleans facility.

Teams also are reviewing processes in Final Assembly. Two are looking at TPS, and electrical and mechanical processes. The other two are evaluating quality inspection processes. A team also is observing mock-up panel refurbishment.

The results of the team’s findings were due to be presented to Industrial Engineering manager Brian Magendie and Lean/Six Sigma lead Tim Livingston a few days ago.

‘Number one, we’re all change agents; and number two, we selected employees from across several directorates, so we have a diverse group of experienced and knowledgeable teammates,’ said Livingston to Lockheed Martin’s MAF ‘Mission Success’ bulletin.

The data being analysed by what is described as the Structured Improvement Activity (SIA) LM21 tool, which will evaluate and identify ‘inhibitors to hardware transformation.’

‘We’re assuming that we’ve got common inhibitors across all elements, and that they stand out once we gather all the data together,’ explained Magendie. ‘Then we’ll address a series of additional Structured Improvement Activities to try to minimize/eliminate the process disruptions that we may be observing.’

Magendie will report the team’s findings to senior management, ahead of the implementation of changes to the processing of the tanks, which – it is hoped – will pull back the current pressures of delivering the tanks on a schedule, to aid alignment with NASA’s Shuttle manifest.

‘Cell A is currently the rate/pace driver. So it’s inhibiting our rate delivery capability in terms of tanks per year, and in essence would be considered the bottleneck,’ noted Magendie.

‘The key objective of this effort is to complete tanks earlier with the same level of quality and safety that we exhibit and require today.’

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