NASA Puts Space Shuttle External Tank to the Test

April 15, 2005

NASA engineers and managers are evaluating the data from today's Space Shuttle Discovery External Tank (ET) tanking test at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Fla. The tanking test was yet another milestone in NASA's efforts to return the Shuttle safely to flight.
The 11-hour test also readied Discovery's main propulsion system and allowed technicians operating the hardware to gain first-hand experience on the redesigned tank. The test allowed crews to evaluate the overall operation of ground systems in preparation for launch of Discovery's Return to Flight mission (STS-114) planned for next month.

"With the completion of this tanking test, NASA is one step closer to returning the Space Shuttle fleet to flight," said Michael Kostelnik, NASA's deputy associate administrator for International Space Station and Space Shuttle Programs. "Although we have further milestones to complete before we fly, we are proud of the technical advancements we have made the last two years to ensure a safe mission," he said.

The tanking test consisted of ground crews at KSC filling the ET with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen fuel to evaluate how the Shuttle, tank, Solid Rocket Boosters and ground systems performed when the tank was filled with two super-cold propellants. During the test, NASA's ice/debris team thoroughly inspected the fueled tank looking for frost and ice buildup. Although ice is expected to form on the ET, the team has strengthened its inspection criteria based on results from tests performed at several NASA centers and other research facilities.

"This test provides another data point for us to consider," said Neil Otte, chief engineer for the External Tank Project Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. "The information we gain will give us added confidence in the tank," he added.

The tanking test is not required by NASA to certify redesigns made on the ET. It's done to demonstrate the effectiveness of the redesigned tank bipod heater system. It replaced the original bipod ramp design, which had foam on it. Today's test also checked out the new "drip-lip" design that's intended to reduce the potential for ice accumulation on the joints that allow the tank's fuel line to adjust.

Eight similar tests have been conducted. Seven of those tests were performed from 1981 to 1983, the first three years of the Shuttle program. The first super-lightweight ET was tested prior to its flight on STS-91 in June 1998. There have also been seven flight readiness firings that included tanking and firing the main engines.

During launch, the ET delivers 535,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and oxygen propellants to the three Space Shuttle Main Engines. The ET is the only component that cannot be reused. It is covered by polyurethane-like foam that insulates the propellants, keeps ice from forming on the exterior and protects its aluminum skin from aerodynamic heat during ascent.

Explore further: Testing shows using microwaves to propel a craft into space might work

Related Stories

Under-ice rover chills with fish at aquatic exhibit

June 26, 2015

A school of sardines fluttered by as giant leafy kelp swayed back and forth at the California Science Center in Los Angeles on Monday, June 22. At the bottom of this 188,000-gallon aquatic tank, a bright orange garibaldi ...

Recommended for you

How bees naturally vaccinate their babies

July 31, 2015

When it comes to vaccinating their babies, bees don't have a choice—they naturally immunize their offspring against specific diseases found in their environments. And now for the first time, scientists have discovered how ...

Earth flyby of 'space peanut' captured in new video

July 31, 2015

NASA scientists have used two giant, Earth-based radio telescopes to bounce radar signals off a passing asteroid and produce images of the peanut-shaped body as it approached close to Earth this past weekend.

Image: Hubble sees a dying star's final moments

July 31, 2015

A dying star's final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The death throes of this star may only last mere moments on a cosmological timescale, but this star's demise is still quite ...

Exoplanets 20/20: Looking back to the future

July 31, 2015

Geoff Marcy remembers the hair standing up on the back of his neck. Paul Butler remembers being dead tired. The two men had just made history: the first confirmation of a planet orbiting another star.

New blow for 'supersymmetry' physics theory

July 27, 2015

In a new blow for the futuristic "supersymmetry" theory of the universe's basic anatomy, experts reported fresh evidence Monday of subatomic activity consistent with the mainstream Standard Model of particle physics.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.