NASA: Some Fuel Tank Foam Loss After Shuttle Launch

Liftoff! Space Shuttle Atlantis Launches on ISS Construction Mission
NASA's space shuttle Atlantis roars off the launch pad for a rendezvous with the International Space Station on mission STS-115. In the foreground is the countdown clock, marking launch and mission-elapsed time, on the grounds of the NASA News Center.
(Image: © NASA/Webb Dillard.)

CAPECANAVERAL, Fla. - The spaceshuttle Atlantis' foam-covered fuel tank did shed some debris midwaythrough today's successfullaunch, but the events are not believed to be a threat to the spacecraft,NASA officials said Saturday.

Camerasmounted to Atlantis' external tank recorded two foam shedding events - one ofwhich appears to have struck the orbiter -between four and six minutes into the8.5-minute launch, NASA astronaut Tony Antonelli, serving as spacecraftcommunicator, told shuttlecommander Brent Jett.

Antonellisaid the foam debris seen just after the four-minute mark appeared to hit theorbiter's tile-lined undercarriage, but video showed no apparent damage after apreliminary report.

A secondfoam-shedding event at the five-minute, 27-second mark seemed to originate fromthe outboard section of a 17-inch liquid oxygen feed line, Antonelli said,adding that ice was also seen after main engine cutoff.

Both eventsoccurred well after the 2.5-minute mark, when the atmosphere outside Atlantis becomesso thin it cannot sweep debris back fast enough to pose a critical threat tothe shuttle, NASA officials said. Shuttle officials have also said that they did expect minor foam shedding events during each launch.

"That'sgood news that if all came off later than the area of the time of interest,"Jett told Antonelli.

In apost-launch briefing here at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), NASA launchintegration manager LeRoy Cain also mentioned the observed foam loss, andcautioned that any evaluations at this point are very preliminary.

"The thingsthat folks did see, in a very, very preliminary look, looked well into theascent phase where we really don't have debris concerns," said Cain, whochaired the Mission Management Team (MMT) for Atlantis' STS-115 mission.

NASA willhold its first in-depth briefing on Atlantis' launch imagery at about 4:30 p.m.EDT (2030 GMT).

Atlantis' STS-115mission is NASA's third shuttle flight - and the first dedicatedInternational Space Station (ISS) construction effort - since the 2003 loss of seven astronautsaboard Columbia, which suffered critical damage from foam launch debris andbroke apart during reentry.

ISS-boundmission

Atlantisrocketed spaceward with Jett and five other astronauts aboard at 11:14:55 a.m.EDT (1514:55 GMT) bound for the ISS, where its 17.5-toncargo of new trusses and solar arrays will be attached to the outpost'sport side.

"What yousaw today was a flawless countdown, a majestic launch," NASA chief MichaelGriffin said during a post-launch briefing here at the Kennedy Space Center(KSC). "It was tough to get here."

A fuel tanksensor problem that scrubbed a launch attempt Friday was absent during today'slaunch countdown, and a shuttle fuel cell cooling system issue that prevented aSept. 6 liftoff also performed as expected, NASA said, adding that launch padlightning strikes and a tropical depression also plagued the mission.

"Thecountdown itself went exceedingly well," NASA launch director Michael Leinbachsaid. "Which should really not be surprising considering how many times we'vetried it."

NASAofficials are now looking ahead to the shuttle's 11-day ISSassembly mission, which begins with a Monday docking after the STS-115 crewconducts a thorough examination of Atlantis' heat shield tomorrow.

"That willbe an extremely challenging flight," William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associateadministrator of space operations said. "The teams are prepared, they're readyto execute and they're ready to go."

  • VIDEO: First Tasks of NASA's STS-115 Mission
  • Gallery: Prepping Atlantis
  • Complete Space Shuttle Mission Coverage
  • NASA's STS-115: Shuttle Atlantis to Jump Start ISS Construction
  • The Great Space Quiz: Space Shuttle Countdown
  • Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 13

Have a news tip, correction or comment? Let us know at community@space.com.