Crucial for next week’s decision on which External Tank Atlantis will fly with on STS-117, spray tests have been completed at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) on a mock-up test article. Test results are now being evaluated, ahead of being implemented on the damaged ET-124.
Meanwhile, ET-117 – which may become the replacement tank for Atlantis – is making good progress en route to Florida, following its departure from MAF’s New Orleans base on Monday.
**The most comprehensive collection of STS-117 onwards related presentions and mission documentation are available to download on L2 **
Related documentation on L2: Major STS Flight Schedule Changes (New FAWGs) – March 27 – NASA White Paper on Manifest Changes – March 27 – Shuttle Flight Preparation Status Charts to STS-124. ET Repair Documentation – from start of March to April.
**Previous articles related to the ET damage events: Article 1 – Article 2 – Article 3 – Article 4 – Article 5 – Article 6 – Article 7 – Article 8 – Article 9 – Article 10 – Article 11 – Article 12** Click for more screenshots of the damage.
The requirement for tests to be carried out on the mock up at MAF serves a number of purposes, notably for the creation of procedures that can be mirrored by technicians working on the tank at the Kennedy Space Center, while also allowing the production of test data on how effective those repairs would be.
‘Most work on vehicle is on the ET. Made progress on mock-up spray efforts at MAF; sprays completed, test data being gathered, and setting up to do demonstrations of pencil sharpener tool,’ noted shuttle manager Wayne Hale notes this week. ‘That demo is planned to be completed toward Wednesday.’
In total, 2,655 areas of the tank are being worked on, or require further assessment. Out of that total, 767 areas are currently being classified as ‘fly as-is’ – although assessments are still continuing.
The expansive repair and assessment plan – which rightly earned praise from NASA management last week – is proceeding without any major issue. While it’s not been documented, sources believe that there will be enough data and analysis available for the crucial meeting next Tuesday, which will conclude with the decision on whether to proceed with repairs on ET-124, or to destack Atlantis and mate with ET-117.
That new tank is already en-route to Florida, ably guided – to the amusement of some NASA e-mails – by Captain (George) Kirk. The arrival on dock is expected this weekend. ET-117 is primarily set to be the tank for Endeavour and STS-118 (LON-318).
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The new launch date for Atlantis will be decided on April 16, although the tank decision might not be decisive in regards to if STS-117 launches in May or June.
‘ET-124 repairs remain the critical item for launch. Much engineering assessment remains for areas that may be cleared to launch as-is, repaired with standard repairs, large area sand and blends, or BX spray,’ noted NASA manager Paul Hill. ‘That means we are not guaranteed to have ET-124 ready to fly before the May 21 solar beta cut out.
‘However, SSP (Space Shuttle Program) management will be reviewing engineering and repair status daily with a first objective to deliver a flight ready, repaired ET-124, and a second objective of supporting launch as early as May 11. It’s still too early in the repair process for KSC and the ET Project to have a good estimate on the repair rate and resulting completion date.
Confirming that the best case scenario remains a short May launch window that extends from May 11 to May 20, Hill emphasised that this window is currently the target of the program.
‘As has already been passed on, if we do not launch by May 20, the solar beta cut out keeps us on the ground until June 8. The preliminary earliest date to launch if we swap to the next tank is June 17,’ he added.
‘All of this will be discussed heavily all the way up to the April 10 ET decision point. Wayne Hale has made it clear that we should all be working to protect launching in May until SSP has made a formal decision that the tank repairs will not support launch before the solar beta cut out.’
With ET-120, the next tank to be shipped from MAF, on target for completion on June 4, LON (Launch On Need) supporting timelines shouldn’t be an issue, especially for the June launch window, which is the latest Atlantis can launch in her current stack configuration. By July, both of STS-117’s Solid Rocket Motors pass their maximum certification age of five years old.
Still, caution should be noted before trying to second guess NASA’s decision on which tank – and thus which launch window – will be used for STS-117, and NASA documentation has not noted any indications on which way this decision will go.
‘Have made great strides in the last few days on the STS-117 vehicle work, but are not ready yet. Will review status next week. The Program has not made a determination on launch yet. This is currently no earlier than May,’ added Hale, before once again – as is common place with comments from NASA managers – that efficiency and safety is the priority for the workforce, as opposed to trying to rush the repair effort.
‘It is more important to do the work well than fast. The individuals at KSC need to be careful working in the scaffolds, because we do not want anyone to be injured. Want to work efficiently, but carefully and safely.’
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