NASA has admitted that Space Shuttle workers discovered water beads coming out of orbiter Atlantis’s external propellant tank (ET)-118’s intertank this week.
The intertank is a riveted mid section of the shuttle’s ET (pictured below), which separates the liquid oxygen at the top of the tank from the liquid hydrogen at the bottom.
“It appears the water got into the stringers [panels] of the intertank during Hurricane Katrina,” says NASA. The tank’s stringer panels support the intertank’s structure and are placed around the circumference of that section of the ET.
NASA does not expect the investigation and repair work to impact on Atlantis
’s readiness to carry out launch-on-need (LON) crew rescue support for the Shuttle programme's next mission, Discovery
's STS-121, scheduled for 1 July, if it is damaged on ascent. NASA also expects Atlantis
to meet its launch window for its expected August mission, STS-115, to the International Space Station.
However Shuttle programme sources have informed flightglobal.com that the issue could be more serious and may affect STS-115 and LON preparations.