Focused Inspection not required following full debris review

by Chris Bergin

The requirement for a Focused Inspection has been stood down, after NASA technicians came to the end of checking over inspection imagery from Flight Day 2 and yesterday’s Flight Day 3 Rbar Pitch Maneuver (RPM).

Since Flight Day 2, technicians on the ground have looked through around 700 Regions Of Interest (ROIs) – which is the usual number for a shuttle flight – before reducing that number significantly by Flight Day 3.

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Discovery’s TPS:

‘On-Orbit Imagery: RCC Inspection: The RCC screening and review is on going,’ noted NASA SE&I on Thursday morning. ‘Approximately 700 preliminary Regions of Interest (ROIs) have been identified with about 300 being promoted for further evaluation. Those numbers are typical.’

By last night, deputy shuttle manager John Shannon noted that around 75 percent progress had been made with the RCC imagery, with 25 percent on the RPM images. Nothing of concern had been found.

In time for the Flight Day 4 Mission Management Team (MMT) meeting, the recommendation was sent to managers that no Focused Inspection would be required.

‘The Focused Inspection (FI) candidate list was reviewed by Orbiter and the DAT,’ noted the Imagery Teams. ‘Their expected recommendation to the MMT is that no FI’s will be required for this mission. Final FI decision should be made at the FD4 MMT.’

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That MMT has since concluded, with confirmation that no Focused Inspection is required. As a result, Atlantis will be stood down from her LON (Launch On Need) rescue mission requirement – though orbiters technically stay on standby until after the Late Inspections, prior to landing.

Discovery’s lack of any debris related damage is thanks in part to the performance of ET-120, which only suffered a minor foam liberation during ascent. Further imagery rounded up the sum total of foam loss during the ride uphill, including areas at the bottom of the tank, and intertank flange.

Interestingly, the one reported impact on the orbiter – which was recorded at 187 seconds of ascent – did not actually hit the orbiter after all. The foam release, from the Lower Intertank Flange +Y of Bi-Pod, initially appeared to strike Discovery on her belly. Regardless, if the debris had of impacted Discovery, it was past the time of ascent that debris is capable of causing damage.

‘After further review, KSC reports that this debris release does impact the Orbiter,’ noted Systems Engineering and Integration Office (SE&I), Imagery Integration. ‘Info communicated to DAT for their assessment as part of RPM imagery screening.’

Yet to gain a mention at the MMT press briefings, the foam liberation from the LO2 Ice Frost Ramps will result in further evaluations by the ET Project, most likely for the purpose of ‘lessons learned’ on future tanks.

The liberation assessment on the IFRs are actually positive, as no foam loss of note was recorded on the LH2 ramps – which have been the focus of redesign efforts. Also notable is the lack of issues with the 17 inch feedline brackets, following modifications undertaken on the foam and SLA after STS-118’s liberation event.

Two events were noted with the top of the tank – namely the LO2 IFRs, although none of the foam liberated in large pieces – thus posing no danger to the vehicle. Also noted for the first time are three areas of minor foam loss on the bipod attach area of the tank

‘Some ET TPS (Thermal Protection System) loss was observed at ~Xt (Station) 1145 Aft on the port bipod attach area,’ added NASA SE&I’s final presentation to the MMT. ‘Two small divots were noted on the aft face of the -Y bipod ramp.’

Overall, ET-120 flight was a large success, especially when taking into account its convoluted path to finally making a flight. This earned the praise of shuttle manager Wayne Hale.

‘Mr. Hale is extremely pleased with the performance of ET-120. Was much speculation about what might happen during a worst-case scenario, and clearly, it performed very well,’ noted the latest Shuttle Stand-Up/Integration report. This isn’t to say that a few minor items won’t come out of detailed data review.

‘Found something interesting on LOX-side ice/frost ramp on front of tank, but still assessing. Tank performance looks good so far; no major issues.

‘Very proud of ET-120 and folks that worked on it. After all these years, for it to perform as well as it did was outstanding.’

Other debris hazards were also placed under the close scrutiny of analysis teams, which found a number of items of interest, all around the first few seconds of launch – although none of the items proved to be a hazard to Discovery.

‘0.0 sec – Debris Between SSMEs: Some orange colored debris was observed falling between the SSME’s. All 3 IAT’s believe this debris to be butcher paper. 1.1 sec – Doghouse Cover on HPD M4 Closes Late. The doghouse cover on HPD M4 is late in closing.

‘-3.4 sec – Large Scale/Paint Chips: There appear to be larger than allowable scale/paint chips crossing the field of view. No vehicle impact is observed.’

While deputy shuttle manager John Shannon characterized it as condensation, the vapor trail see on the launch video during first stage has been placed back into focus, as NASA try to find a definitive answer to what was observed.

‘~64 – 72 sec – Vapor Observed on -Z Side of ET: Per FD3 SE&I and MMT discussions, the vapors seen emanating from the -Z side of the ET during ascent are no longer considered to be a concern for safety of flight. Although somewhat ambiguous, the most likely cause is condensate vapor from the ET,’ noted NASA SE&I.

‘Similar phenomena have been observed on previous missions, including STS-114 and 121. Humid atmospheric conditions, look angle, and lighting conditions all may play a role in helping to explain why the vapor trail was more visible in ground camera imagery on this flight than on recent flights.’

Sources at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans – where the tanks are constructed – insist that the trail was not the result of a venting relief valve on the tank.

With Discovery now cleared of any concerns relating to her ascent, the mission continues to press ahead on track. As noted by the MMT, if there was one mission they could choose from that would not have the distraction of TPS damage, it was this one.

That’s due to the complexity of the tasks the STS-120 crew are undertaking, with four more EVAs to come. The next will be on Sunday, as the major element of Flight Day 6.

Flight Day 5 consists of the OBSS (Orbiter Boom Sensor System) Handoff and Berth, with berthing required so SRMS (Shuttle Remote Manipulator System) is free to grapple the P6 truss on Flight Day 7. Saturday will also see the checkout – via an ingress – of the newly installed Node 2 ‘Harmony’ module.

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

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