Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Shuttle Launch Delayed Until January

Image credit: NASA (hi-res version)

Caption: Space shuttle Atlantis stands on Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The shuttle's launch has been delayed until at least January 2. Meanwhile, according to CNN:

NASA will fill the space shuttle Atlantis' fuel tank next week in hopes of cracking a vexing fuel gauge problem that led to back-to-back launch delays, the agency said Tuesday.

The trouble could be anywhere in the 100 feet of wiring between the four gauges at the bottom of the fuel tank and the shuttle itself, in any of the connectors or even in the sensors themselves, said shuttle program manager Wayne Hale.

NASA to fill shuttle fuel tank

This is a big and costly operation. Sometimes, the only way to figure out why something is failing is to repeat the conditions exactly. This time, they'll be using some additional instrumentation, though:

A centerpiece of the evaluation is scheduled for Tuesday when technicians will fill Atlantis’ external fuel tank with liquid hydrogen and watch how the fuel sensors behave. Special instruments will be used to relay pulses through the wiring of the sensor system to pinpoint the location of the problem

NASA: Latest Shuttle News, Dec. 12, 2007 (no permalink)

Of course, even if they isolate the part that's the problem, they still have to figure out why it's failing:

At the same time, engineers will conduct other tests, mostly in laboratories, to try to figure out what is causing the gauges in Atlantis' tank to malfunction every time they're exposed to the super-cold liquid hydrogen that fuels the shuttle.

NASA to fill shuttle fuel tank

They've been looking into this problem for quite a while, and they still haven't sorted it out. It looks to me like it's going to be weeks before they figure out when they're going to launch.

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