Press Release

NASA Approves New Design for Shuttle External Tank Fitting

By SpaceRef Editor
July 26, 2004
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NASA Approves New Design for Shuttle External Tank Fitting

NASA is moving ahead with plans to redesign a part of
the Space Shuttle external fuel tank that investigators
believe played a critical role in the Space Shuttle Columbia
accident. The Space Shuttle program will soon begin
manufacturing and installing an improved bipod fitting, which
connects the external fuel tank to the Shuttle during launch.

A Critical Design Review Board of NASA managers, engineers
and aerospace contractors last month approved the new design,
a significant milestone in the effort to return the Shuttle
to safe flight. The approval allows workers to begin
incorporating the new fitting on External Tank No. 120, the
tank slated for flight on the next Shuttle mission,
designated STS-114.

Investigators believe that during Columbia’s launch in
January 2003, insulating foam from the bipod area fell off
the external tank and damaged the left wing of the Space
Shuttle. The new design addresses the Columbia Accident
Investigation Board recommendation to reduce the risk to the
Shuttle from falling debris during liftoff. It eliminates
the foam covering from the bipod fitting and replaces it with
four rod-shaped heaters. The heaters will serve the same
primary function as the foam, preventing ice buildup on the
tank’s bipod fittings.

“This is a fix that really gets to the root of the technical
problems that caused the loss of Columbia,” said Michael
Kostelnik, NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for
International Space Station and Space Shuttle Programs. “By
eliminating this debris source, as well as potential debris
from other areas, we are making the Shuttle a safer

The External Tank Project Office at NASA’s Marshall Space
Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., first began developing
redesign concepts for the bipod fitting after insulating foam
from the left bipod ramp area detached during the October
2002 launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis.

The newly designed heaters will be placed below the fitting,
in covers made of a strong alloy composed of nickel, chromium
and iron. They will sit on top of a copper plate sandwiched
between the fitting and a hard, dense material that separates
the heater from the tank.

The design will be retrofitted on the 11 existing tanks and
incorporated into the manufacture of all new tanks. Lockheed
Martin Space Systems will do the work at NASA’s Michoud
Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Delivery of the retrofitted
tanks to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida, is expected in

For still photos on the Internet of the redesigned bipod
fitting, visit:

Video b-roll of the new bipod will air on NASA Television
during the Video File segment starting at noon EDT today.
Beginning July 24, NASA Television will be seen in the
continental United States on AMC-6, at 72 degrees west
longitude, Transponder 9, 3880 MHz, vertical polarization,
audio at 6.8 MHz. If you live in Alaska or Hawaii, NASA TV
will now be seen on AMC-7, at 137 degrees west longitude,
Transponder 18, at 4060 MHz, vertical polarization, audio at
6.8 MHz.

For information about NASA TV, visit:

More information on NASA’s human space flight programs is
available at:

SpaceRef staff editor.