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NASA TV To Air Space Shuttle Discovery Tanking Test

December 16, 2010

NASA will conduct a tanking test at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday, Dec. 17, to evaluate repairs made to space shuttle Discovery’s external fuel tank. Managers decided Dec. 3 to perform more tests and analysis before proceeding with Discovery’s STS-133 mission to the International Space Station.

The test will air live on NASA Television beginning at 6:45 a.m. EST. Discovery’s external tank will be filled with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, as it is before launch. Technicians placed 89 instruments on the tank to assess its performance during the fuel loading.

Strain and thermal sensors will record movement and temperatures from the tank’s ribbed intertank area as it chills and warms during fuel loading and emptying. The tank holds super-cold liquid oxygen chilled to minus 297 degrees Fahrenheit and liquid hydrogen at minus 423 F. The cryogenic propellants cause the tank to shrink by about one-half inch.

The test will help verify repairs associated with cracks on the tops of two 21-foot-long, U-shaped aluminum brackets, called stringers, on the external tank. It also will help engineers determine what caused the cracks during Discovery’s launch countdown on Nov. 5. Technicians repaired the cracks and reapplied foam insulation on the stringers last month.

Results of the instrumented test will not be known immediately. Managers and engineers will review the test data and determine the next course of action. Discovery’s next launch opportunity is no earlier than 1:34 a.m. on Feb. 3.

Image Caption: A technician on a scaffold works on the intertank region of space shuttle Discovery’s external tank as preparations continue for a tanking test. Note the environment enclosure on the right. That was put in place to allow foam to be applied over sensors attached to the tank for the test. Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossman

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