ET-120 X-Ray evaluations find crack-like indications in brackets

by Chris Bergin

X-Rays checks on ET-120’s LOX 17 inch Feedline brackets have found “linear indications” or “crack-like” signatures in the foam – which will lead to a requirement to trim or even remove and replace the foam on the three brackets.

Evaluations will continue into Friday on the forward plan, but as of Thursday, rollover of Discovery is still classed as September 9, with the opening of the launch window for STS-120 remaining as October 23.

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The evaluations were called after a small piece of foam liberated from a bracket on ET-117, 58 seconds into ascent during STS-118, before unluckily bouncing off the aft strut of the tank, bouncing up and causing a gouge in Endeavour’s TPS (Thermal Protection System).

While the Mission Management Team (MMT) concluded that a repair wasn’t required on Endeavour, they ordered inspections of ET-120 – the next tank set to fly, with Discovery on STS-120. These inspections started this week, including the use of X-Rays.

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‘Preliminary results on ET-120 LO2 Feedline X-Rays see linear indications in the Super Lightweight Ablative (SLA) insulation on stations 1623, 1377, and 1129 similar to a crack seen on a test article,’ noted processing information on Thursday. ‘X-Ray of three Locations is complete. X-ray of the final two locations is in work.’

Further meetings took place on Thursday, including what appears to be confirmation that the liberation from ET-117 during STS-118’s ascent is edging towards it being a piece of SLA.

‘STS-118/ET-117 LO2 Feedline Bracket foam loss, at (station) Xt1624 potentially included SLA (~5x higher density material than foam) X-ray of LO2 feedline bracket test article at MAF (Michoud Assembly Facility) showed cracked SLA,’ noted Lockheed Martin information.

‘MAF requested X-rays of the ET-120 LO2 feedline support brackets to assess SLA integrity. X-rays of Xt 1129, Xt1377 and Xt1623 complete. Preliminary indicates that ‘crack-like’ indications are present. ‘Crack’ signature different than observed on test article bracket. Enhanced analysis in work. X-ray of Xt1871 in work.

‘ET Project continuing to evaluate x-rays and re-assessing repair options/verification requirements. Recommendations to SSP (Space Shuttle Program) planned for 08/24 (Friday).’

The results will go some way to evaluate the status of ET-120’s mating with the twin SRBs (Solid Rocket Boosters), which was due three days ago.

There is some flexibility in the schedule, with the rollout target – currently mid September – slightly earlier than normal, so as to allow the processing of the STS-122 stack inside the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building).

Late on Thursday, NASA announced that Shuttle manager Wayne Hale will conduct a news telecon at 3pm Central time, to ‘discuss a review held prior to the mating of the next shuttle mission’s solid rocket booster and external fuel tank.’

The results of this review will be collated on Friday morning.

L2 members: All documentation – from which the above article has quoted snippets – is available in full in the related L2 sections, updated live.


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