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For Release: Feb. 1, 1996
June E. Malone
SUPER LIGHTWEIGHT EXTERNAL TANK CERTIFICATION TESTING
A new Super Lightweight External Tank for the Space Shuttle took an important first step toward flight today with the arrival of a special test article at NASAs Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The Aluminum Lithium Test Article arrived at the Center by barge for testing in Marshalls Structural and Dynamic Test Stand. Over the next six months, the test article will undergo pressure and other tests to simulate the launch environment. This testing will verify the structural design of the Super Lightweight External Tank.
"This is a significant milestone for the Super Lightweight Tank program," said External Tank Project Manager Parker Counts. "Were excited about testing the special segment at Marshall and making a significant move toward flight certification and eventual first flight of the Aluminum-Lithium Super Lightweight External Tank."
While the test article is only 40 feet long, compared to the 154 feet of an external tank, its diameter of 27 feet is the same. It also includes a new structural design that will be incorporated in the new super lightweight tank. The test article is essentially a modified segment of the aluminum lithium liquid hydrogen tank with a liquid oxygen tank dome at one end. The special test segment replicates design enhancements that are built into all four of the sections that make up the new liquid hydrogen tank.
The new external tank will be the same size as the current one but will be approximately 7500 pounds lighter.
"Each pound we can take from the external tank is one more pound we can take to orbit. This becomes especially important when launching the international Space Station into its proper orbit in 1997," said Counts.
The Super Lightweight Tank is constructed of aluminum lithium which is a lighter, stronger material than the metal alloy currently used in the production of the Space Shuttles External Tank. The new tanks structural design also will be changed. Taking advantage of the high strength, lower density properties of aluminum lithium, the walls of the hydrogen tank will be manufactured in an orthogonal waffle-like pattern.
The Shuttles current external tank as well as the new Super Lightweight Tank are manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corporation at NASAs Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana. The tank contains the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants consumed by the Shuttles three main engines during launch. The External Tank Project is managed for the Space Shuttle program at NASAs Marshall Space Flight Center.