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  • Companies Aid Space Shuttle Safety
Aug 2005
HOUSTON, Aug. 5 -- As the space shuttle Discovery prepares to return to Earth from the first flight since the Columbia's fuel tank disaster two-and-a-half years ago, the products of two companies are playing a role in helping to detect possible fuselage damage and fuel tank defects that could jeopardize the success of the mission.

The T-pli gap fillers made by Laird Technologies Thermal Products, a Cleveland-based supplier of thermal-management solutions, is a component of an infrared camera for Discovery. The Extravehicular Activity Infrared Camera is part of the shuttle's fuselage re-entry inspection equipment for viewing possible damage to the shuttle's exterior. The camera is designed to be used in an emergency by a crew member on a spacewalk outside the shuttle.

Test sample of the spray-on foam on the space shuttle Discovery’s fuel tank using Picometrix T-Ray QA1000 terahertz technology. Image shows defects that have been purposely included for the test. The defects on the right side of the image are delaminations (the foam did not adhere to the tank) and the circular defects at the end of the metal stringers are voids between the foam layers.(Photo courtesy of Picometrix LLC, an Advanced Photonix Inc. [API] company.)
One of the improvements and safety upgrades NASA made to Discovery was to develop new non-destructive evaluation (NDE) techniques to examine the shuttle's external tank. The sprayed-on foam insulation (SOFI) was the culprit in the damage to the leading edge of the left wing that ultimately caused the Columbia disaster. Ann Arbor, Mich.,-based Picometrix LLC, a supplier of terahertz instrumentation and opto-electronic solutions, designed the terahertz imaging technology that NASA used to scan Discovery's external fuel tank for cracks and other flaws prior to liftoff.

The terahertz imaging scans through the SOFI and identifies voids and disbonds that could possibly cause damage during take-off. Terahertz imaging differs from x-ray technology in that it will tell you the chemical compound of the object scanned, not just how it looks visually.
This technology also has defense, national security and pharmaceutical industry uses.

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