Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Fuel valve concerns push back space shuttle launch

Updated Tue. Feb. 3 2009 8:39 PM ET

The Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - NASA on Tuesday delayed next week's launch of space shuttle Discovery while it runs tests to determine whether newly installed valves would cause damage if they broke during liftoff.

The launch will take place no sooner than Feb. 19, seven days after the shuttle was originally scheduled to take off on a space station construction mission. The delay is needed to make certain that Discovery can fly safely with the valves that control the flow of gaseous hydrogen into the external fuel tank, said NASA's space operations chief, Bill Gerstenmaier.

"We want to make sure we've got this right. This has important consequences to us," Gerstenmaier said. "So we think standing down for a little bit of time and letting the folks do a little more work is a good thing."

Three new gas pressure valves were installed in Discovery's engine compartment after a small part of one broke off during shuttle Endeavour's launch in November. Endeavour's fuel tank maintained good pressure and, in the end, no harm was done.

Engineers believe fatigue caused by acoustic vibrations caused the valve in Endeavour to break. Over the next week, experts will use lab tests to try to ascertain whether a broken chunk of valve could damage any of the downstream plumbing.

Top NASA managers decided on the delay Tuesday night after an entire day of closed-door meetings at the Kennedy Space Center to discuss launch preparations.

Discovery and its seven-man crew are set to deliver the last set of solar wings to the International Space Station.

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