The National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced Tuesday that a planned engine upgrade for the Space Shuttle Atlantis will be complete in time for the shuttles June 8th launch date, according to a press release on NASA’s website. NASA claims that the upgrade will increase the shuttle’s safety and reliability.
The Advanced Health Management System (AHMS) had a test run on the space shuttle Discovery in 2006, though the device was not in fully active mode. The system will be fully operational during the Space Shuttle Atlantis’ ST-117 mission set to launch on June 8th.
The system was designed to improve scientists’ understanding of: “the two most critical components of the space shuttle main engine: the high-pressure fuel turbopump and the high-pressure oxidizer turbopump”, according to NASA’s press release.
The system does not stop at monitoring engine conditions. If the system detects that vibrations in an engine are above the safety threshold it can shut the engine down, avoiding a possible catastrophe.
Depending on the circumstances of the mission, including target trajectory and the shuttles location at the time an engine is shut down, the shuttles will have many alternate options to safely land the shuttle. Some of the options are: alternate landing sites on earth and / or docking at the International Space Station.
The newest component of the system concerns the controller, the computer that controls all of the engines functions.
Each of the engine’s high pressure turbopumps is equipped with a sensor that determines the amount of vibration on each pump. Each turbopump undergoes 23,000 revolutions per minute; the pumps extreme speeds require intricate balance. Vibration can disturb the delicate balance required for the engine to work properly.
Information from the turbopumps sensors is sent to the newest component of the system, digital signal processors located in the main engine’s controller.
Tim Kelley, deputy manager of the Space Shuttle Main Engine Project Office, had this to say about the new upgrade: “The Space Shuttle Main Engine Project has, for many years, pursued a reliable means to monitor high-pressure turbomachinery health in real time. AHMS provides that capability and significantly improves shuttle flight safety.” according to NASA’s press release.
The administration is pleased with the upgrade. NASA’s press release noted that the upgrade is the most recent in a series of six significant shuttle safety advancements developed and implemented since the first shuttle launched in 1981.
The safety issues concerning NASA’s aging space shuttle fleet became national news on February 1st, 1993 when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry in to the earth’s atmosphere. The shuttle program screeched to a halt as the tragic results of an underfunded space fleet were broadcast on televisions around the world.
The tragedy caused NASA to step away from manned missions and refocus its explorations mainly through the Discover program; the program focuses on the use of probes to collect scientific data from space. NASA has relied heavily on Russian space craft to transport astronauts and supplies since the tragedy, and has only recently begun manned shuttle missions again.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration