NASA and Lockheed Martin Michoud Space Systems, of New Orleans, La., have completednegotiations on a contract worth $625.6 million for the final purchase of materials needed tobuild 60 new Space Shuttle external fuel tanks.
"Together, with two earlier purchases of materials and equipment, we now have everythingwe need to build our sixth production order of external tanks for the Space Shuttle Program,"said Parker Counts, manager of the External Tank Project Office at NASA's Marshall SpaceFlight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
This sixth purchase of tanks will be the first comprised totally of Super Lightweight Tanks.This newest version of the tank is the same size as the previous Lightweight Tank design,but weighs approximately 7,500 pounds less. Its liquid hydrogen tank and the liquid oxygentank are made of a new aluminum lithium alloy, a lighter - but 30 percent stronger - materialthan the previous aerospace aluminum alloy used for the Lightweight Tank.
The lighter tank allows the Shuttle to deliver various elements of the International SpaceStation - such as the Unity module launched last December - into the proper orbit.
NASA has purchased a total of 119 external tanks. To date, 93 have been flown. The last ofthe fifth production order is scheduled to be delivered in August 2001.
Production of the new order of tanks will start in 2000 at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facilityin New Orleans, with the first one scheduled for delivery to the agency's Kennedy SpaceCenter, Fla., in 2002.
"It takes about 20 to 22 months to build a tank once the purchased materials are received atthe factory," Counts said. "The first tank of this new order will fly probably in 2002. This buyshould carry the Shuttle program well into the next century."
"The Super Lightweight Tank has been a challenging tank to produce," Counts said. "But,as we expected, the initial cost to produce it has come down as our government/industryteam gains experience and makes improvements to our manufacturing equipment andprocesses."
Measuring 154 feet tall and 27.5 feet in diameter, the external tank is the largest singleelement of the Space Shuttle. During launch, the tank also acts as the structural backbonefor the Shuttle orbiter and solid rocket boosters attached to it.
The external tank holds the liquid hydrogen fuel and liquid oxygen oxidizer for the Shuttle'sthree main engines. The tank is the only part of the Shuttle not reused. After its 526,000gallons of propellants are consumed during the first eight and one-half minutes of flight, it isjettisoned from the orbiter and breaks up in the upper atmosphere, its pieces falling intoremote ocean waters.
The Super Lightweight Tank made its first flight in June 1998 on the STS-91 mission.
Materials provided by Marshall Space Flight Center. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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