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NIST Shielding Data Help Launch Shuttle

Date:
September 13, 2005
Source:
National Institute of Standards and Technology
Summary:
As the National Aeronautics and Space Administration plans for the next launch of the space shuttle, a critical aspect of the program's safety is being assured by 5 million pieces of data collected recently by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. During the launch of Discovery in July, NASA used radar to track debris during ascent and the agency considered the NIST data on the performance of the orbiter's electromagnetic shielding vital to the resumption of Shuttle flights.
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NIST researchers Dennis Camell (left), Chriss Grosvenor (on the ground), and Nino Canales assemble an antenna tower used in the NIST system for measuring the space shuttle's electromagnetic shielding.
Credit: Image credit: Photo by David Novotny/NIST

As the National Aeronautics and SpaceAdministration (NASA) plans for the next launch of the space shuttle, acritical aspect of the program's safety is being assured by 5 millionpieces of data collected recently by the National Institute ofStandards and Technology (NIST).

To help prevent a repeat of the 2003 accident when launchdebris damaged the shuttle Columbia, causing it to break up onre-entry, NASA has begun illuminating shuttles with tracking radarsduring launches and ascent to detect and quantify potential hazards.Concerns about possible disruption of onboard electronic guidance andcontrol systems led NASA to request NIST's help in determining how muchradar energy can penetrate the orbiter in key locations.

During the launch of Discovery in July, radar was used to trackdebris during ascent and NASA considered the NIST shielding data vitalto the resumption of shuttle flights.

NIST has been conducting research in this area for severalyears and has developed a portable system that efficiently measures theelectromagnetic shielding characteristics of airframes. Thesystempreviously has been used to evaluate both commercial and militaryaircraft. NIST engineers visited the Kennedy Space Center in Florida toevaluate the space shuttle Endeavor and the hanger in which themeasurements were made.

The NIST system incorporates ultra-wideband antennas, aprecision optical link between them, and a computerized data analysissystem. The two-step measurement process consisted of a referencemeasurement with the transmitting and receiving antennas outside theshuttle, and a penetration measurement with the receiving antennas atselected locations inside the orbiter. A computerized comparison ofthese two measurements over specific time periods and frequency bandsprovided a measure of shielding characteristics in the frequency range30 megahertz to 6 gigahertz. The data enabled NASA to set safe powerlevels on radar systems used to detect debris.


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National Institute of Standards and Technology. "NIST Shielding Data Help Launch Shuttle." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 September 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/09/050913083833.htm>.
National Institute of Standards and Technology. (2005, September 13). NIST Shielding Data Help Launch Shuttle. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 25, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/09/050913083833.htm
National Institute of Standards and Technology. "NIST Shielding Data Help Launch Shuttle." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/09/050913083833.htm (accessed May 25, 2015).

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