FRR approve Feb 7 for STS-122 pending hose evaluations

by Chris Bergin

While it appears NASA managers are confident that the superb engineering effort on the LH2 Feed-through connector will mitigate any further issues that caused the delay to STS-122, the problem with one of Atlantis’ radiator hoses continues to be evaluated.

Wednesday’s final Delta Flight Readiness Review (FRR) has, however, cleared the continuation for Atlantis to press ahead for the target launch date of February 7, pending the hose evaluations over the next few days. *UPDATES FOLLOW (READ MORE)*

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Meetings still taking place as of end of working day Eastern. Currently, flying as-is appears to be favored.

Thursday morning latest: ‘Aft STB PLBD retract hose update: X-rays, additional inspections, and photos were performed last night. Engineering evaluation is in work. Freon leak checks will be performed today,’ noted processing information on L2.

‘The team formed to investigate this problem continues to evaluate fly as is rationale, repair options, and risks. Payload Bay Door closure for flight is scheduled for Monday, 2/4.’

Thursday midday: Engineering update: ‘First glance of flexhose shows there is braid damage near inboard most section of omega bend,’ noted troubleshooting reports on L2.

‘About 1-2 inches in length of distorted braids with 2 broken strands visible without 10X.’ – Evaluations are continuing.

New article pending..

Hose Evaluations:

A large cross agency, cross contractor debate is working through flight rationale on the bend found in the starboard aft radiator retract flex hose, with the hope they can allow STS-122 to launch on February 7.

The options available to engineers appear to be one of three, with flying as-is – with on orbit mitigation plans, repairing at the pad, or to rollback, destack and repair the hose on Atlantis inside her Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF).

Managers will meet again on Saturday to overview status and decide on a forward plan.

The inspection of Atlantis’ hoses – which carry freon cooling fluid to the orbiter’s radiators – was called after finding a ‘first of its kind’ ‘omega’ bend on one of Discovery’s hoses.

Interestingly, the subsequent testing on the removed hose from Discovery has not shown any sign of leaks – which is the main problem that engineers are concerned about with such bends in the hoses.

Also adding to flight rationale is the ability to isolate the system that uses the bent hose, should a leak occur during Atlantis’ mission. A leak may not occur, but the problem of the hose being bent relates to added stresses on the convoluted stainless steel hose – which could potentially lead to a freon leak.

A large volume of memo and e-mail traffic has been observed, as engineers and managers discuss every aspect of the issue, so as to ensure the right decision it taken on a forward plan.

‘Bad news…after opening the starboard plbd (payload bay door) on STS-122 at the pad, an ‘omega bend’ was observed. Appointed a Tiger Team to resolve the issue and determine the forward path with respect to changing the door configuration of STS-122 at the pad and ultimately the path to fly STS-122,’ noted one e-mail to shuttle managers. 

‘The team will have to determine whether flying as is, implementing operational mitigation techniques, R&R at the pad, or R&R at the OPF is the correct long term path.’

Initial findings, based on both borescope inspections and visual checks – from which photographs were taken for evaluation purposes – remain hopeful that the problem is not as serious as that found on Discovery.

‘It was reported after opening the starboard door 18-20 deg to view the aft starboard freon hose, an omega bend was observed,’ added the memo. ‘Based on visual inspection, the hose is not in contact with the V-guide in close proximity to the hose and it is estimated that continuing to the full 88 deg open configuration will not place additional strain on the hose.

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‘The forward starboard freon hose looks good, as confirmed from visual inspection from the aft window performed yesterday/at an earlier time. The starboard payload bay door was placed in isolate after seeing the omega bend in the 18-20 deg configuration and remains there right now to mitigate any leak that could appear and to evaluate system performance in this isolated configuration.

‘Some questions to be answered before we move the door: is there some flow restriction in the present configuration, gather the rad panel pressure to see how it behaves during door opening. This story is a work in progress.’

While mitigation procedures are already in place, another memo noted that there might be a need to deorbit in the event of a leak, though this is likely to depend on various resulting scenarios.

‘If we saw an auto isolation during closure of the 1st door, that we’d stop and isolate the other loop prior to closing that 2nd door,’ noted a memo between Flight Directors. ‘The premise being that we want to be sure we have at least one good freon loop even if that 2nd door gets a bent and leaky hose too.

‘That would probably mean I have to d/o that day, but I think I’d already be there anyway after the 1st failure depending that 1st leak was (all leaked out or not).’

An updated mitigation plan will be reported as it becomes available.

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