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New Tiles Mean Better Safety
01.13.06
 
As workers at Kennedy Space Center continue processing NASA's orbiters for future space shuttle missions, new orbiter tile has arrived for installation on the vehicles to further increase flight safety.

Technician installs new space shuttle tile. The tile, called "Boeing replacement insulation" or "BRI-18," will gradually replace older tile around main landing gear doors, external tank doors and nose landing gear doors.

Replacing older tile with the BRI-18 tile in strategic areas is one of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board's recommendations to strengthen the orbiters. Currently, 10 tiles have been processed inside the Thermal Protection System Facility.

Image at Right: Mickey O'Brien, United Space Alliance technician, installs the tile on Atlantis. Image credit: NASA

As workers at Kennedy Space Center continue processing NASA's orbiters for future space shuttle missions, new orbiter tile has arrived for installation on the vehicles to further increase flight safety.

The facility's manager, Martin Wilson of United Space Alliance, said orbiter tile development has been an evolutionary process. "The original orbiter tiles were developed based on a concept at the beginning of the space shuttle program," Wilson said. "They were lightweight and shock resistant. As the program progressed, several versions of tile were developed with increased strength and durability."

Technician prepares new space shuttle tile. Tim Wright, Thermal Protection System Facility engineering manager with United Space Alliance, said the BRI-18 tile is more rigid than previous tile materials and won't distort as much during the critical ceramic coating and firing process.

"This property enhancement should increase tile manufacturing accuracy," Wright said. "A second significant advantage is that the tiles are more impact resistant than previous designs, enhancing the crew's safety."

Image at Left: Thermal Protection System Facility engineering manager Tim Wright gauges a new tile. Image credit: NASA

Discovery will receive the first BRI-18 tile. Technicians inside the Orbiter Processing Facility are performing fit checks and will begin bonding the tile to the vehicle this month.

The raw material for the tile is manufactured by The Boeing Company in Huntington Beach, Calif. Made of silica mixed with other proprietary elements, it underwent rigorous testing and certification prior to being shipped to KSC. The tile will undergo the same processes as the original tiles, such as machining, ceramic coating, baking at 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit (to cure the coating), densification, and pressure pad application. It will be transferred to the Orbiter Processing Facilities as needed.

The BRI-18 tile or some version of it could be considered for use on the Crew Exploration Vehicle, Wilson said.

 
 
Linda Herridge
NASA's Kennedy Space Center