September 29, 1998
John Ira Petty
Johnson Space Center, TX
A robotic device that could save money, decrease pollution and reduce hazards to people inspecting above-ground storage tanks will be tested at the Johnson Space Center’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory on Oct. 2 by Solex Environmental Systems Inc., a small Houston company which developed it. The day-long series of tests is designed to develop and evaluate methods of freeing the device if it should become stuck or tangled inside a tank it is inspecting. If a stuck device could not be freed, the tank would have to be drained at considerable expense.
The tests will be conducted under a reimbursable Space Act Agreement, which will allow Solex to use the facility on the condition it reimburse NASA for direct costs. Such agreements not only allow private companies to use one of JSC’s unique facilities for testing that could not be done commercially, but also allows them access to NASA expertise. The Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, part of the center’s Sonny Carter Training Facility, is a 6.5-million-gallon, 40-foot-deep pool where astronauts train for space walks.
Don R. Hartsell, president of Solex, said the system, called Maverick, is submergible and can inspect welded floor plates in very large tanks containing liquids, including gasoline and jet fuel. Hartsell said Solex developed Maverick in connection with a research partnership with the Energy Department’s Idaho National Engineering Environmental Laboratory.
Solex officials said the Maverick inspection is about 80 percent less expensive than conventional systems and reduces carbon dioxide emissions, because the tank doesn’t have to be drained. Maverick also could reduce the time spent in hazardous spaces by thousands of man hours, Hartsell said. Three people operate the Solex device from outside the tank.
Solex was formed in 1989. The company specializes in commercialized technology for environmental control and cleaning services for disaster restoration, large-scale dehumidification for sandblasting and coating applications inside petrochemical and water storage tanks as well as cryogenic pelletized carbon dioxide (dry ice) cleaning.
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