Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
NASA Space

Golf-Ball Sized Hail Damages Shuttle 118

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the don't-make-me-stop-this-thing dept.
MattSparkes writes "The Shuttles March launch has been delayed to late April after golf-ball sized hail caused 7000 pits and divots in the foam that shields the fuel tank. NASA say it's the worst damage of its kind that they have ever seen, but hail is not a new problem for the agency. In 1982, a hailstorm damaged the sensitive heat shield tiles on the Columbia's wings. The damaged tiles then absorbed about 540 kilograms of rain. Once in space, the orbiter faced the Sun to allow the tiles to dry out."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Golf-Ball Sized Hail Damages Shuttle

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward

    In 1982, a hailstorm damaged the sensitive heat shield tiles on the Columbia's wings. The damaged tiles then absorbed about 540 kilograms of rain.
    Just like my chevy!

    I wonder if they're having problems getting the smell of stale McDonald's & whiskey out of their vehicle too.
  • Obviously (Score:3, Funny)

    by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @10:18AM (#18180670) Homepage Journal
    NASA is not a golfer.
    • by CoolVibe (11466)
      Exactly 7000? Sounds like it was intentional.

      (just kidding)
    • Although some of the astronauts have been known to play [newscientist.com].
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by CrackedButter (646746)
      Woo, isn't NASA supposed to be a millionaire?
      • Woo, isn't NASA supposed to be a millionaire?

        No air in space, so it would be more accurate to say NASA is a millionvacuum.
    • by aadvancedGIR (959466) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @11:01AM (#18181138)
      That foam really tied the fuel tank together, did it not?
      • by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @11:26AM (#18181392) Homepage Journal
        You want foam? I can get you foam. Believe me, there are ways, dude..
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ajlitt (19055)
        Also, foam is not the preferred nomenclature. Insulation, please.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by racermd (314140)
        Maybe it's just me, and I don't claim to be a super-smrt - sorry, smart - rocket-scientist (because I'm not), but why don't they put the foam insulation on the inside of the fuel tank shell?

        I'm sure there are reasons why they don't, but can those reasons out-weigh the problems it's causing with the foam on the outside?

        Does anyone know if this has been considered? If so, why hasn't it been done, yet? Please be as specific as you can. I'm really interested in this.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Rei (128717)
          It's not just insulation to stop the hydrogen from boiling off; it's also an ablative TPS (Thermal Protection System) for liftoff. You'd melt the aluminium. Furthermore, I would wager that having liquid hydrogen seeping through the insulation would ruin its R-value, if the material is compatable with LH at all (I'd have to check). Plus it'd be harder (read: more expensive, slower) to apply internally. Plus it would take a redesign and recertification of the craft.
        • by josecanuc (91) *
          I don't know the answer to your question exactly, but I could make some educated guesses.

          If the foam was on the inside, you could have problem with the fuel (O2, H2) breaking down the foam and "gumming up the works". You could have problems with chunks of foam falling off into the fuel.

          A solution to that would be to put a liner over the foam, but that adds weight.

          The current setup could be thought of as a liner on the inside, foam on the outside and any outer fairing removed for weight saving.
          • by Rei (128717)
            Yes, liners do add weight. The ET was initially painted white. They dropped the paint because 600 pounds of paint translated into notably more payload for the shuttle.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by KoshClassic (325934)
            One possible reason - save weight. Metal is heavier than foam. Imagine a tank similar to the current one in shape, size, and internal volume. Move the metal to the outside of the foam, you need more metal to cover the greater surface area on the outside of the resulting shape than it does on the inside of the current tank, hence more weight.

            re: the liner idea - yeah, the tank was painted white for the first two or three launches. They got rid of the paint to save weight - apparently covering the foam wi
        • i think some of the Saturn stages had internal insulation...

          http://www.geocities.com/launchreport/satstg5.html [geocities.com] (the s4b stage)

          http://history.nasa.gov/ap08fj/01launch_ascent.htm [nasa.gov]

          (sorry, not the best links, and i don't know why this was chosen, and apparently forgotten....)
      • by smaddox (928261)
        F***in A.

        "What foam?"

        STFU Donnie, you're out of your element.
    • by saboola (655522) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @11:05AM (#18181178)
      What they need is The Ding King! [dingking.tv]. (As Seen On TV!)
    • by monoqlith (610041)
      Those tiles really tied the spacecraft together.
  • by bad_fx (493443) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @10:20AM (#18180686) Journal
    [quote]NASA has had less serious problems with fuel tank foam as well. In 1995, a shuttle on the launch pad had to be returned to its hangar for repairs after woodpeckers punched about a dozen small holes in the tank's insulation.[/quote]

    That got a bit of a chuckle; It's in the article linked from TFA.
    • by gbjbaanb (229885)
      Ok, so they should move the launch site to somewhere where they don't get stupidly large hailstorms, massive amounts of ice, super strong winds! (and is barren of trees, too).

      I mean, is it me, or did they get sold some 'prime real estate' to build the launch centre?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by saboola (655522)
        Here ya go, right from the pedia:

        Cape Canaveral [wikipedia.org]

        Cape Canaveral was chosen for rocket launches to take advantage of the earth's rotation. The centrifugal force of this rotation is greatest at the equator, and to take advantage of it, rockets are launched eastward, in the same direction of the earth's rotation. It is also highly desirable to have the downrange area sparsely populated, in case of accidents; an ocean is ideal for this. Although the United States has sites closer to the equator with expans
        • by gbjbaanb (229885)
          exactly - despite there being potentially better sites, they went and placed it on the east coast of Florida. Substantial logistical advantages? Its near the shops? I mean, they ship parts all over the place.

          It beats me why they couldn't have negotiated a base elsewhere on the planet that doesn't have golf-ball sized hailstones and killer woodpeckers. :)
          • by saboola (655522)
            I guess the logistics of it might be better now, but think about when it was being built in the late 1940s. Shipping parts now is definitely easier than shipping parts 60 years ago. Just a thought.
          • Puerto Rico and Hawaii have significant logistical disadvantages.
          • by Rei (128717)
            It's unfair just to assume that because there are problems in one place, some other place would automatically look better. Look at SpaceX. The Falcon is a nice looking rocket. I like the design. The company has worked well, and things have worked great in the US. On the atoll, for the actual launches, however? Problem after problem. The biggest single factor that seems to have led to them? Their choice of launch site, Kwajalein Atoll. Cheap. Equatorial. Storms are rarer than many other sites. No
        • A friend working for AFTAC just south of the Cape said that the reason they're always told is that in the late 50's, early 60's, Melbourne area wasn't on the Hurricane tracks. Even a couple of years ago during the bad season, they only got brushed with one. Locating it near Miami would have been a bad idea, as that gets almost all of them. (or so it seems)
  • Paradigm shift (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TWX (665546) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @10:21AM (#18180698)
    Maybe there really is something to all of those science fiction movies that show space ports opening like a clamshell a few minutes before the spacecraft lifts off, especially if the air inside was temperature and humidity controlled. That kind of thing might have prevented Challenger's destruction and would keep any craft free from weather-related damage before takeoff...
    • Re:Paradigm shift (Score:5, Informative)

      by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes AT xmsnet DOT nl> on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @10:45AM (#18180940)
      The only problem with that is keeping the clamshell (and the whole building) from being blasted to smithereens during takeoff. The noise level alone is enough to crumble concrete, add to that the temperature and pressure, and you see why rockets are usually launched in the open. True, missiles are often launched from canisters or silos, but:

      1. Smaller missiles often use a cold-gas ejection system. The motor doesn't ignite until the missile is out of the canister. Some systems (e.g. Mk 41 VLS) ignite the missile in the canister. In this case, the canister consists of an inner tube that contains the missile, and a fixed outer tube. When reloading, the inner tube is replaced. This is doable for a missile, not so much for a Shuttle-sized rocket.

      2. For larger missiles (ICBMs), a reusable launch site isn't the top priority. Damage to the silo is more acceptable here than for a NASA launch facility.
      • The Shuttle's launching off the Mobile Launcher Platform [wikipedia.org]. Unlike a clamshell it's directly below the exhaust and it is even mobile (as the name implies; btw. the parts of the clamshell would need to be "mobile" as well, to open and close that thing, but unlike the MLP the engines wouldn't need to be 5m below the SLBs.
        • by hcdejong (561314)
          The platform isn't an enclosed structure, so there's no pressure buildup. And they need 1.2 million litres of water to protect the platform (and the rest of the launch pad) during the launch. The water absorbs the heat and vibrations. A large fraction of the water is converted to steam in the 20 seconds or so from ignition to clearing the tower.
      • by clickety6 (141178)
        Nah... look at Thunderbirds. Q whacking great underground chamber that opens up just prior to launch. of course, you need to allow some time for all the NASA employees to exit the giant swimming pool before it slides out of the way ;-)
      • by Lumpy (12016)
        When reloading, the inner tube is replaced. This is doable for a missile, not so much for a Shuttle-sized rocket.

        Bah!, a foam or plastic sabot for the shuttle will solve that problem. Rifling the barrel will also help in the accuracy as well.
      • by roman_mir (125474)
        For a miserly 5,000,000 per launch, I will personally setup a gigantic tent around the Shuttle and then will dismantle it about 2 hours before the launch ;)
      • a reusable launch site isn't the top priority. Especially as it is assumed the silo is going to get hit by an incoming MIRV, which will do more damage than any launch would do.
    • Re:Paradigm shift (Score:5, Informative)

      by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @10:51AM (#18180998) Journal
      ISRO has fixed launch pads and the Vehicle assembly building moves on rails out of the way for launch. NASA has a fixed Vehicle assembly building and the rocket moves on very complex tracked vehicle a few miles to the launch site. So far ISRO has not launched anything the size NASA has. The largest payload by ISRO, a six ton Low earth orbit, 1 ton Geostationery payload (quoting from memory, pardon errors) is very small compared to what NASA has done. So the building capable of assembling something the size of space shuttle cant easily move out of the way. But the could try to create a simpler building mainly to protect the vehicle without all that expensive jigs and assembly equipment that moves out of the way on the day of launch. They would not really like to have a fueled vehicle inside a building.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Mercano (826132)
      How about, say, something like this [wikipedia.org]? Though I don't know how early in the countdown then need to roll back the building.
    • by sconeu (64226)
      IIRC, that's what the shuttle facilities at Vandenberg were going to be. The stack would be raised in situ at the pad, and the "VAB" would roll away on both sides at some point during the countdown.
    • by centron (61482)

      Maybe they could just build a big umbrella over the launch site.

      Seriously though, a retractable canopy wouldn't be temperature and humidity controlled, but snow, freezing rain, hail, and the like wouldn't be nearly as big a problem. Obviously you have to weigh the costs and engineering challenges of building a retractable canopy versus making the shuttle and tanks fully weather-proof, but I suspect it would be a pretty quick calculation.

    • Maybe there really is something to all of those science fiction movies that show space ports opening like a clamshell a few minutes before the spacecraft lifts off, especially if the air inside was temperature and humidity controlled. That kind of thing might have prevented Challenger's destruction and would keep any craft free from weather-related damage before takeoff...

      Those clamshells are nice - but for any useful size of rocket they are pretty much impossibly beyond our current engineering abilities.

    • "Shields up, Mr. Sulu!"

      Only practical way. Either that or self repairing hulls.

  • .. faced the Sun to allow the tiles to dry..

    I do the same thing with my pickup after it rains...except I didn't tile my truck.
  • Rain (Score:4, Interesting)

    by saskboy (600063) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @10:23AM (#18180718) Homepage Journal
    So Columbia survived a half a ton of rain in its fragile shield, but was brought down by scarring foam. How odd space flight can be...
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      What is more shocking is the fact that they deliberately took up half a ton of water up into space.

      I wonder how much such a worthless payload costs in terms of fuel needs.

      Would it not have been cheaper to dry the shuttle while on earth? and spare a couple of hundred liters of fuel?
      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        The fuel costs are marginal. The costs of space flight are complexity and manpower. If the tank was big enough to carry enough fuel to reach the intended orbit, it would cost way more to delay the launch than it would to carry the water up.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by maxume (22995)
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle [wikipedia.org]
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Orbiter [wikipedia.org]

        The whole thing apparently weighs more than 4 million pounds at launch, with the orbiter being about 150,000 pounds and the payload being more than 50,000 pounds(there are 35,000 pounds that look like they are fuel). 1,000 pounds doesn't really seem like that big a deal, and probably needs to be factored into their payload mass tracking anyway(it seems like it would vary with humidity, etc).
        • Not too big, but considering that it only gets 25 tons to orbit it isn't something you'd like. For the first two flights the external tanks were painted white, but they scrapped that because they could save over half a ton of payload.
          • by maxume (22995)
            Not as a regular thing no, but I doubt that they do anything other than 'fill er up'. If that's true, they would know if it was something they needed to worry about.
    • by hey! (33014)
      I suppose it's because so much of engineering boils down to finding the most applicable of proven solutions. "Proven" is always relative to a set of assumptions. You might not even know what the relevant assumptions are until they are violated. It is important for engineers to pay attention to intuition, but you can't actually trust it, especially in unusual situations.
  • in a few wee Kevlar umbrellas. For the price of this shading material, which they discovered they needed more than TWO DECADES AGO, they wouldn't have multi-million dollar dent problem.
  • Exactly how hard... (Score:3, Informative)

    by joshetc (955226) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @10:31AM (#18180792)
    Exactly how hard is it to just cover the damn thing? I would think after spending so much money on something NASA would want to take care of it...
    • by SydBarrett (65592) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @10:42AM (#18180900)
      Uh oh, NASA forgot to put the shuttle in the garage after they got back from the mall. Their dad is gonna be SO pissed.
    • by decsnake (6658)
      they shoulda gone by home depot and got one of those gigantic blue tarps and covered it when they heard the weather forecast.

      hey, it worked for me when I had the roof off of my house
    • by PPH (736903)
      I'm going to get the blue tarp contract with NASA and get rich!
    • Exactly how hard is it to just cover the damn thing? I would think after spending so much money on something NASA would want to take care of it...

      It's huge. It's not like they can just throw a giant diaper over it every time it rains.
      • by joshetc (955226)

        It's huge. It's not like they can just throw a giant diaper over it every time it rains.
        Wtf they cover entire football fields when it rains. Why exactly can't they keep it in a hanger?
  • hang on... (Score:5, Funny)

    by symes (835608) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @10:32AM (#18180816) Journal
    Golf balls [wikipedia.org] have bumps and divots over the surface to enable longer flight times. Surely these additional bumps will also aid the shuttle's aerodynamics?
    • Golf balls have bumps and divots over the surface to enable longer flight times. Surely these additional bumps will also aid the shuttle's aerodynamics?

      Only if you're going to be whacking it with a giant hammer that's also designed to give it backspin. But that's the kind of stuff NASA wants to avoid.

    • by bdonalds (989355)
      Maybe...how fast does the shuttle need to spin before the Magnus effect makes a difference?
    • by Scutter (18425)
      Golf balls have bumps and divots over the surface to enable longer flight times. Surely these additional bumps will also aid the shuttle's aerodynamics?

      I hear they're planning on painting red racing stripes on it, too, to make it go faster.
    • What about speed holes?

      Salesman: Well I can't _give_ you the car, Krusty, but I _can_ let you
      have this little number for practically nothing: only
      $38,000.
      [bullets hit the car]
      Homer: [suspicious] Hey, what are all these holes?
      Salesman: [quickly] These are speed holes. They make the car go
      faster.
      Homer: Oh, yeah. Speed holes!
      [bullets riddle the car and smash the windshield]
      Salesman: You want my advice? I think you should buy this car.

  • by DaveV1.0 (203135) on Wednesday February 28, 2007 @10:34AM (#18180826) Journal
    All those damned retirees and there golf. Worse than kids, I tell ya!
    • by PPH (736903)
      At least there are quite a few "dent gypsies" in the area who will show up to fix it.
  • Nobody else said so I figured I would. ;)
  • Seems like it would not be too hard to contruct a big ass building around the launch pad to protect the shuttle from the weather. Put it on rails so that it could be pulled back the req. safe distance for launch.
  • I'm confused. Why would the space shuttle's heat shields need to face the sun in order to dry out water? There's no pressure in orbit. Surely water under no pressure is vapour?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by imsabbel (611519)
      Evaporation enthalpy.

      At 80 Kelvin, ice will be fine even in ultrahigh vacuum. So energy has to come from somewhere to allow the ice to evaporate. Those headshields are very good insulators, which leaves the sun as energy source.


    • Not if it freezes first.

  • one HAILUVA problem...
  • So am I the only one who's more concerned that Florida is getting golf-ball sized hail??
  • Columbia wasn't still around to be on the launch pad for the inevitable "Hail, Columbia!" headlines that would have resulted.
  • Atlantis was moved to the pad on Feb 15th for a March 15th launch. What is it that they need to do with the shuttle once it's at the launchpad that they can't do in the VAB that takes a month to do? Roll it out there, kick the tires and light the fires.
  • I remember reading an article about the Nissan manufacturing plant in Mississippi had to face similar problems with hail storms damaging their newly built cars. Then they put sonic wave generators all around the lot pointing skyward, the sonic wave will blast the hail into smaller, more harmless pieces. Do they have similar systems in NASA/elsewhere?
  • ...before there were golf balls, how did people desribe hail? :)

EARTH smog | bricks AIR -- mud -- FIRE soda water | tequila WATER

Working...