ATK and Lockheed Martin battle back for STS-120

by Chris Bergin

Two NASA contractors have managed to avert a potential delay to STS-120, following a major modification effort by Lockheed Martin engineers at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF), and a recovery from a train crash by ATK.

Stacking of Discovery’s STS-120 boosters – of which some segments were involved in the February train crash – begins Wednesday, while ET-120 will finally be completed for shipping at the end of the week.

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The ATK train, which crashed in Alabama, was carrying segments involved were the six remaining RSRM (Reusable Solid Rocket Motor) 98 center and forward segments (STS-120) and RSRM 99 aft segments (STS-122). Thankfully, only a couple of segments were slightly damaged, while the majority survived the crash.

Following a clear up of the crash site, most of the segments were moved to the ‘suspect’ siding at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), with a couple of segments belonging to STS-122 believed to have returned to ATK in Utah.

Now, with the start of STS-120 build up inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), the timeline for Discovery’s LON-320 (Launch On Need) and primary mission STS-120 have not been affected by the incident. The boosters will begin build up on Wednesday.

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In all, both motors, along with two segments from each booster, are at KSC, ready to be built up, with two forward segments awaiting to be offloaded from the holding siding.

‘The forward segments are at Suspect Siding,’ noted ATK information, before claiming those two segments will be offloaded over the coming days. ‘RH (Right Hand) forward offload is planned on July 17/18th. The LH (Left Hand) offload is scheduled on July 20/24th.’

Meanwhile, ET-120 – the tank that will fly on STS-120’s mission to install Node 2 ‘Harmony’ module to the International Space Station (ISS) – is about to be completed. The tank was one of four ETs that were sent back to MAF in New Orleans from KSC for modifications, following the loss of Columbia.

ET-120 was originally set to fly on Discovery’s RTF (Return To Flight) mission STS-114, until it was replaced by ET-121 – following ECO (Engine Cut Off) sensor problems during tanking.

The tank was also at the center of the NASA decision to remove the PAL ramps from all ETs ahead of STS-121, after visible cracks were observed on ET-120’s foam surface. The PAL ramps came into focus following a liberation event during STS-114, where a chunk of the ramp came loose during ascent.

The tank was manifested to arrive at KSC in May. However, this was delayed due to ‘non-recurring verification and validation driving the late completion,’ which forced that date to slip several times. Ironically, the hail damage to ET-124 – which resulted in a launch slip for STS-117 – gave MAF the time to complete ET-120 in time for scheduled mating operations for Discovery’s mission.

Now that battle to complete the tank in New Orleans, within the processing flow of STS-120 (LON-320), has been won, with the shipping of the tank set to start by the end of this week.

‘Scheduled to complete ET-120 this week. Foam processing completed. Have been reinstalling hardware and checking it out. Cable trays are down, and pressurization lines are in place,’ noted Shuttle information this week. ‘Remaining critical path involves leak checks in tubing installed in cable trays, putting covers back on, working on internal shake-down on intertank.

‘Best time to run trough this work is six days, but took challenge to get out by July 20. External shakedown is other critical path and is in work with no issues. Had independent review of ET-120 last week (including a few NESC and Lockheed Martin persons). They concurred with proceeding through shipment and identified open work associated only with planned work.’

Discovery herself remains on schedule for rollover at the end of August, with two SSMEs (Space Shuttle Main Engines – 1 and 2) both installed over the weekend. SSME 3 will be installed around July 26.

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