Brown, 703-416-3532 or 281-467-8657
Columbia Accident Investigation Board
Issues Preliminary Recommendation Three:
On-Orbit/On-Station TPS Inspection and Repair Capability
VA The Columbia Accident Investigation Board
today issued its third preliminary recommendation to the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration, in advance of its appearance
in the final report.
return to flight, for missions to the International Space
Station (ISS,) develop a practicable capability to inspect
and effect emergency repairs to the widest possible range
of damage to the Thermal Protection System (TPS,) including
both tile and Reinforced Carbon Carbon (RCC,) taking advantage
of the additional capabilities available while in proximity
to and docked at the ISS.
return to flight, for non-station missions, develop a
comprehensive autonomous (independent of station) inspection
and repair capability to cover the widest practicable
range of damage scenarios.
on-orbit TPS inspection should be accomplished early on
all missions, using appropriate assets and capabilities.
ultimate objective should be a fully autonomous capability
for all missions, to address the possibility that an ISS
mission does not achieve the necessary orbit, fails to
dock successfully, or suffers damage during or after undocking.
present there is no certified on-orbit or on-station capability
to inspect the orbiter TPS for damage, or to effect repairs.
efforts, some predating STS-1, have not resulted in an
in imaging and inspection capabilities, materials technology,
and the access provided by the ISS have greatly improved
the prospects for deploying this capability.
An inspection of the TPS, accomplished as soon as possible
after achieving orbit/rendezvous, coupled with repair capability,
would result in improved safety.
The Board is convinced of the necessity of taking all practicable
steps to de-couple foam insulation shedding
from loss of crew and vehicle, including: 1) design improvements
to prevent foam shedding; 2) toughening the TPS; 3) improved
TPS inspection and repair capability.
An inspection and repair capability is fundamental to improving
the ability of the orbiter to experience TPS damage without
This effort does not reduce the urgency or importance of
aggressively reducing all sources of potential damage to
the orbiter. Only by reducing the likelihood of damage to
the orbiter, as well as developing the ability to detect
and repair damage, can the maximum safety improvement be
During the STS-107 flight and investigation, the lack of
repair capability was cited repeatedly, and may have been
a factor in decisions made during the STS-107 mission, including
the decision not to seek images which might have assisted
in the assessment of damage resulting from the foam strike