NASA green light LAR capability for Hubble mission

by Chris Bergin

The Large Area Repair (LAR) capability has been approved for development by NASA’s PRCB (Program Control Requirements Board), receiving $4m of funding.

Documentation now confirms that the capability is targeted for STS-125 – Atlantis’ mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope – giving the crew the possibility of covering a large breach in the orbiter’s TPS (Thermal Protection System), should damage occur during the mission.

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The panel, which can be shaped to the curve of the leading edge of the orbiter’s wings, would be fastened over the breach with screws, after an astronaut had drilled holes into the Reinforced Carbon Carbon (RCC) panel. It is also capable of being a patch for the nose cap of the orbiter.

The 12” x 12” patch is large enough to cover a sizable breach in the TPS, which currently would result in a LON (Launch On Need) requirement being called, with the crew taking up the safe haven option at the International Space Station (ISS), before being ‘rescued’ by another orbiter. STS-125 is the only flight on the remaining manifest not to have the option of safe haven at the ISS.

As originally revealed by this site in January, a 33 page presentation didn’t directly link this capability to STS-125’s mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope.

However, a second 12 page presentation dated March 15 clearly shows the capability is following a timeline for being ready to fly on STS-125. Both presentations available to download on L2.

‘Recommendation: Approve. $4.14M FY07-08 Cost Plan for RCC Large Area Repair Project. Project content for review of design, materials properties evaluations, and PDR-level maturity of EVA Tools.’

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The next major step involved with bringing LAR into the repair manifest is to procure multiple batches of LAR flexible ceramic sheet, SAR covers, C/SiC threaded fasteners and NOAX sealant – needed to support arcjet tests and thermal/mechanical tests.

The increased capability is an improvement on the current ‘plug’ repair, which would be used on small holes, but not those which could occur around interfaces – such as T-seals. LAR already has costings and a level of developmental maturity in place to allow this concept to move forward.

The LAR patch is flexible, allowing for the covering of breaches in the wing leading edge, as well as being able to be placed over small holes – such as MMOD (micrometeoroid/orbiting debris) impacts – on the nose cap.

To install the patch would be no easy task, with spacewalkers being required to drill/tap holes into the RCC around the damaged location. Fasteners and washers would be needed to help secure the patch in place, before being sealed with NOAX. The tools associated with this capability will also be developed in tandem.

The capability will only be certified after extensive thermal and mechanical testing, and a two year schedule has been mapped out to ensure that process runs smoothly.

Development will begin immediately, with reviews and associated concepts timelined for June and September, 2007, February and August, 2008. It is not known if the capability will fly on the mission prior to STS-125 – especially with the manifest showing a slip to the end of 2008 for the mission – in order to carry out on-orbit certification.

NASA is looking at a salvo of capabilities in case of a worst case scenario debris event with Atlantis, ensuring the unique LON mission that will support STS-125 will only be called when all efforts of repairing the damaged orbiter have failed.

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