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NASA Develops Wireless Tile Scanner for Space ShuttleInspection


> Aug. 7, 2007
> Katherine Trinidad
> Headquarters, Washington 
> 202-358-4769
> katherine.trinidad@nasa.gov
> John Bluck
> Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
> 650-604-5026
> john.g.bluck@nasa.gov
> MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. - A new space shuttle tile inspection method 
> using NASA-built, wireless scanners is replacing manual inspection. 
> The new process begins with the upcoming shuttle mission, STS-118. 
> Endeavour is scheduled to launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in 
> Florida on Wednesday, Aug. 8 at 6:36 p.m. EDT.
> Technicians have been using six new scanners to look for cracks and 
> other imperfections in some of the 24,000 tiles that cover space 
> shuttle Endeavour. The agency designed and built the new tools at 
> NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. In the past, 
> workers at Kennedy visually analyzed tiles and measured dings and 
> cracks with small hand-held scales. 
> "The new method is much faster and more accurate because the depth and 
> volume measurements of the flaws and their locations are wirelessly 
> transmitted into a computer database," said Joe Lavelle, a senior 
> engineer and project manager at Ames. "This tool allows the 
> inspectors to determine with very high confidence whether a shuttle 
> tile needs to be replaced or just repaired."
> "When they made the measurements manually with the scales, they had to 
> estimate the volume of flaws to a worst-case value because they could 
> not precisely measure the volume with any accuracy," Lavelle 
> explained. "With this scanner, they will actually save tiles and the 
> time-consuming process of replacing them."
> The thermal tiles on the space shuttle protect it from the extreme 
> heat generated during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. After 
> each shuttle lands, technicians go through a very rigorous and 
> lengthy process to assess the surface of the tiles for any damage.
> Each scanner weighs approximately 2.9 pounds and is about the size and 
> shape of a small teapot. Technicians place the machine on the tile's 
> flaw to scan it. In about three seconds, the data are computerized 
> and archived.
> Engineers can scrutinize computerized 3-D pictures of the flaws. The 
> images show the length, width and depth of the flaws on the surface 
> of the tiles. Although engineers designed the instrument to scan 
> space shuttle tiles, it also could scan reinforced carbon-carbon 
> material used on the leading edges of the shuttle's wings.
> Engineers developing a heat shield system for NASA's new spaceship 
> Orion already are using a larger, desktop version of the scanner to 
> study heat shield samples tested at Ames. NASA is building a second 
> desktop scanner for use at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. 
> The unit should be completed in about two months.
> For high-resolution images of the scanner, visit:
> http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/news/wireless_scanner.html 
> For more information and the space shuttle and upcoming mission, 
> visit: 
> http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle 
> -end-
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