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Space Science

Space Shuttle to be Outfitted with New Sensors 166

Posted by michael
from the fighting-the-last-war dept.
Norman at Davis writes "Space.com is reporting on new "sensors designed to pinpoint potential damage from falling debris or other objects [which] will be installed into the wings of NASA's remaining shuttle fleet...." Unfortunately, the sensors won't be too sophisticated, MSNBC reports that 'the extent of damage would still have to be determined by an inspection by astronauts in orbit, using an extension boom equipped with cameras and lasers.' Apparently NASA is in the process of developing three techniques which will allow astronauts to spacewalk and repair holes up to fourteen inches in diameter. Finally... the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is also running an article on the topic, stating that "not only will computers provide state-of-the-art imaging, but Defence Department satellites will supplement inspections made by the shuttle astronauts themselves and photographs taken from the International Space Station." 'NASA's efforts to improve its ability to detect whether the shuttle has been struck during flight have evolved remarkably since Columbia's January launch, when engineers watched loops of film sent to Miami for development and projected against a wall by a noisy old projector.' Hopefully this new technology will prevent another Columbia-like disaster, as a space shuttle replacement is looking less likely by the day."
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Space Shuttle to be Outfitted with New Sensors

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  • Re:Spacewalk? (Score:5, Informative)

    by rodney dill (631059) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:06AM (#7700083) Journal
    As I recall with the Columbia it was. There is additional equipment that needs to be taken into space. Weight always being a concern if a space walk is not part of the planned activities then the suit equipment needed for manuevering is not taken along.
  • Re:14 inch hole? (Score:5, Informative)

    by rhadamanthus (200665) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:13AM (#7700142)
    Big enough that smaller chunks of Reinforced Carbon-Carbon paneling floated into space on the 2nd day of the mission. Yes, it is true. You can read about it in the accident report. There test on RCC panel 8 put a huge hole in the RCC panel, "roughly 16 inches by 17 inches".

    I could rant on and on about the foolishness of the shuttle (I work at NASA) but I wont here. To much to say.

    ---rhad

  • Re:Revolutionary (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:24AM (#7700217)
    Computer/Electrical failures - switch to one of the 2 (or 4 in newer shuttle models) redundant system.

    As I understand it, there are two backups for every sensor, but the signal lines run through the same tubes. Additionally, there is one extra backup, which has signal lines which physically run through another part of the shuttle, so you cannot loose all your redundancies when the wiring loom gets damaged.
  • by Kevin Burtch (13372) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:42AM (#7700352)

    When is titanium going to come down in price [slashdot.org] anyways? (been over 2 years now)

    We need to be using new alloys [slashdot.org] for things like this instead of cell-phones!

    Structural fatigue is a common fear for the shuttle and can be eliminated! [slashdot.org]

  • by lcsjk (143581) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:48AM (#7700417)
    I recently talked to an engineer from the booster rockets. He said his group was aware of the foam problem on the boosters and changed to a hard surface foam type that would not come apart during flight. The company working on the main tank foam would not consider changing foam type since it is very expensive to change at this stage of the game.


    The foam on the main tank can absorb moisture, so with a fresh load of liquid hydrogen (and an overnight rain)it condenses and freezes, making not a chunk of foam, but a chunk of ice break loose and hit the shuttle wing.
    There's more details of course, but you get the picture. He did mention that at the temperatures and pressures of re-entry, a hairline crack would be disastrous, and such a crack would not be detected by an astronaut doing a space walk.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:57AM (#7700538)
    Yep... The kit they showed off in... 1981 for the first shuttle launches.

    At that time it was used only a few times then dismissed as it could mean some savings.

    Mentioned in French on October 2003 Spacenews [spacenews.be]

    Now that's cutting-edge technology !
  • by twiddlingbits (707452) on Friday December 12, 2003 @11:55AM (#7701308)
    Pure BS. Read the CAIB. They tested the foam for absorbing water and breaking off as ice, I didn't. They are not 100% sure of why the foam came off, the area it broke away from was laid up by hand not machine and has a complex geometry, both of which were contributing factors. A hairline crack would be an issue but not disaster, again read the CAIB, and earlier shuttle flight had many tiles knocked off and some small amount of damage but not on the RCC leading edge. There is still considerable debate as to how much "punishment" the RCC can take. The foam and RCC are both issues that must be solved before RTF. The CAIB report is VERY detailed, and very complete and removes from the discussion issues such as "fozen foam", but also introduces other new risks such as the underspecification bolt catchers.
  • Re:Spacewalk? (Score:3, Informative)

    by mikerich (120257) on Friday December 12, 2003 @12:00PM (#7701391)
    Is it so difficult to just do a spacewalk and a visual inspection?

    On the Shuttle yes. There aren't hand-holds across most of the Shuttle - so the astronauts can't climb on the fuselage.

    Even if they could, the tiles are so fragile that the slightest brush against the hull risks further damage to the insulation.

    The alternative of the jet pack isn't carried on every mission because of weight and stowage concerns. Additionally not every astronaut is trained in its use.

    And that still wouldn't resolve the problem of the tiles being far too fragile.

    Best wishes,
    Mike.

  • by Storm (2856) on Friday December 12, 2003 @12:17PM (#7701564) Homepage
    Its the process at NASA. In the Challenger explosion, the managers at NASA were told repeatedly that the O-rings became brittle at temperatures below 56 degrees F. Up to the night before the launch, the engineers from Thyacol (sp?), the makers of the solid rocket boosters, refused to sign off on the launch. The NASA managers basically browbeat them into signing off on a launch the next day, even though the temperature was 26 degrees F that morning. NASA was getting all sorts of bad press regarding the three previous delays, and was hell-bent to launch.

    From what I have seen on the subject, Columbia was much the same issue. NASA knew at launch that there might have been damage, but management seemed more concerned about getting egg on its face than the fate of the shuttle. No, thats not fair. Perhaps they didn't think it was that big of a deal, but given that space flight and re-entry pushes the hardware to its limits, there is not a whole lot of extra flex built into the system. It just seems that decisions of that magnitude are made with almost careless abandon. Technology, while good, cannot fix a fundamentally flawed system.
  • Re:Spacewalk? (Score:3, Informative)

    by gorilla (36491) on Friday December 12, 2003 @12:18PM (#7701576)
    It is standard equipment. There is one contingency which must be built into every mission plan, and that's if the payload doors fail to close or lock. In this case there must be an EVA in order to close/lock them. It's never happened so far, but there is always an EVA suit and an astronaut trained in the procedure aboard.
  • CAIB report (Score:3, Informative)

    by teridon (139550) on Friday December 12, 2003 @12:32PM (#7701771) Homepage
    The test report is located here [www.caib.us]. Check out the hole in the panel on page 82.

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