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Laser System Inspects Space Plane

Photonics Spectra
Dec 1999
Lockheed Martin's Tactical Aircraft Systems in Fort Worth, Texas, has applied its LaserUT ultrasonic inspection system to the development of the X-33 reusable launch vehicle. The system, which is intended to detect horizontal defects in composite material parts, imaged a 17 x 10 x 5-ft liquid hydrogen fuel tank for the X-33 after cryogenic testing by NASA.

In LaserUT, a CO2 laser heats the surface of a part, and the thermoelastic effect of the cooling spot produces a "ping" normal to the surface. YAG lasers probe the vibrating surface, enabling the resolution of the surface displacements on the order of angstroms. The company claims the device reduces test cycle times by 90 percent.

The X-33, scheduled for flight tests in 2000, is a demonstrator for the VentureStar orbiter.

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