Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Proposal Modify Shuttle Fuel Tank

  1. Jul 30, 2005 #1

    Unsolicited Proposal To Modify Shuttle External Fuel Tank​

    Addressed Too:
    Attn: Sandy Russo
    Code 210.H
    Goddard Space Flight Center
    Greenbelt, MD 20771
    Office of Space Flight
    Space Shuttle

    Abstract, Introduction Project Description​

    This unsolicited proposal asks as a research paper if construction changes
    in the Space Shuttle External Fuel tank could resolve chronic foam problems

    1. Foam insulation for external fuel tank to be created using single
    common injection mold with a light weight metal matrix for support designed
    to be pulled in place over the fuel tank.

    2. A second variation would involve cutting the prefabricated foam
    unit in half vertically and installing it by snapping it shut over the fuel tank
    and locking it later.

    3. A light metal matrix outside the complete foam unit it used to
    support the outer skin of silicone seal which like the material used
    commonly on roofs is sprayed on.

    4. The proposed change created an inner foam protection surrounded
    by a lightweight; waterproof; and resistant to ice silicone layer of silicone
    seal which is extremely adhesive and I have found over 30 years
    actually very difficult to remove once it dries.

    5. If NASA or Lockheed Martin are interested in this concept I would
    suggest a small model of the tank be constructed and tested in the windtunnel to approximate shuttle launch conditions.

    6. The ultimate purpose of this research proposal is to add structural
    support to the foam and create a highly durable silicone seal around the entire
    structure to prevent materials flying off the external fuel tank

    Management Approach Personnel, Costs, and Facilities​

    If the research idea herein was in favor the management NASA and Lockheed Martin would have to secure outside contractors to create the special molds;
    metal support skeletons; and silicone spraying crews all of which are
    commonly available throughout the United States. If your organizations
    require me to act as consultant I would require transportation to your
    offices on Greyhound; motel accomdations; food...

    8. Other Matters​

    If NASA is willing there are some other modifications of possible modifications of Space Shuttle tile systems which might expand the life and use of the shuttle systems which could be introducted later. I have an extensive online resume which parties interested in knowing more about my backgound can consult


    By Chris Walters
    c/o 7335 Ritchie Dr
    Austin, TX 78724
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2005
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 30, 2005 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Chris, do you work for Nasa or so?

    You seem to be very afraid about this stuff.

    Ok, keep on trying it. Maybe you find the solution for Nasa headaches. :smile:
  4. Jul 30, 2005 #3
    From: "hq-public-inquiries"
    To: "'Chris W'" <chrissaidthanks2002@yahoo.com>
    Date: Fri, 29 Jul 2005 17:45:48 -0400

    Dear Mr. Walters:

    Thank you for your inquiry to NASA.

    Under Federal regulation, NASA is authorized to accept technical proposals for evaluation only under one of two conditions: a proposal must either be (1) submitted in response to a formal competitive solicitation; or (2) presented as an unsolicited proposal. The procedure for submitting an unsolicited proposal is described in a NASA guidebook located at http://ec.msfc.nasa.gov/hq/library/unSol-Prop.html. The concept you describe is not structured as an unsolicited proposal as defined by the guidebook. Therefore, as submitted, it cannot be accepted for review. These rules are primarily intended to protect patent rights and copyright privileges of inventors.

    Also, included in the above Web site are the respective NASA Centers and their particular technical areas of responsibility under the section entitled, “NASA Research areas and addresses for submission.” Perhaps you can address your questions directly to the respective NASA Center for an expedited response. After you review that information, should you continue to believe that your proposal would be more appropriately aligned with an area of research associated with a particular NASA Center, please forward a valid unsolicited proposal directly to that Center. You are strongly encouraged to follow the instructions as outlined in the “Guidance for the Preparations and Submission of Unsolicited Proposals,” Web site so that NASA Center personnel can process and fairly review your proposal.

    NASA hopes that this information will be helpful to you as you pursue your goals. Again, thank you for your letter and interest in NASA.

    Public Communications Management Office
    NASA Office of Public Affairs
  5. Jul 30, 2005 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Chris, I'm not meaning to be antagonistic at all. In fact, I wish you well. You seem to have an entrepeneurial spirit, and that's good. I've tried doing things like you're doing at a young age that seemed like the thing to do at the time, only to realize later in life how far off base I was in even considering what I had thought.

    Anyway, here's a few thoughts:
    - No consultant is going to ride on Greyhound all the way from Texas, nor even suggest such a silly detail. If you get a consulting position with any firm, NASA or otherwise, you'll set up the conditions at that time, not before. Besides which, NASA doesn't make the tank, nor do the engineering on it. They may help, but that's the responsibility of a subcontractor.
    - The idea of reinforcing the tiles is fine, but as Astronuc has pointed out, the thermal expansion of the tiles needs to be accomodated. And that's just the start.

    One concern regards solidified or liquified air at the tank wall. At a temperature of -420, which the tank wall is at, anything but helium and neon is cold enough to solidify. As you go out away from the wall through the tile, you'd see some point that has a temperature above -340, which is the temperature at which nitrogen solidifies (aprox). At that point, air changes to a liquid. It isn't till you get to -320 to -280 that you will get gasseous air. Oxygen liquifies at a higher temperature than nitrogen, so you can get a concentration of liquified oxygen at this level. This is a concern because of the flamability of an oxygen rich atmosphere in a potentially flamable foam insulation.

    That assumes you have a temperature gradient with air in it. In reality, there is very little air in this vicinity, though there is some, mostly between the tiles I'd suspect. Instead, you have whatever gas is inside the closed cells of the foam. I'm assuming they have closed cell, I think that's a reasonable assumption. Whatever is in the closed cell is going to solidify in a similar manor though. The only difference will be that the gas is likely to change phase at a higher temperature, as opposed to a lower. If you made a foam with a vacuum inside the cells, and were able to prevent air from ingressing through the molecular structure (which is nearly impossible) then that might be the best solution.

    One of the problems with the hydrogen tank tiles is the rapid decompression. As the vehicle goes through the atmosphere, the atmospheric pressure drops rapidly. In so doing, any gas inside expands as a function of pressure. The main problem I've heard about is that cryogenic liquid air starts boiling rapidly, giving off gas. And any solid may even start to melt or subliminate. I'd guess the solid is the least of the concerns. The boiling liquid air is a serious threat. One concept that NASA has considered is to purge the entire insulation with helium, but that is very costly to say the least, and helium is a limited resource even more so than petroleum.

    There's a lot that goes into the details. Simply covering up the entire surface with a vapor barrier and reinforcing it is just one consideration. There are numerous details to consider. Also, there are numerous other rockets which use hydrogen for a fuel, and how they do it has also been considered, I'm sure. If you have some ideas about how best to do this, why don't you throw them out for suggestion.
  6. Jul 31, 2005 #5
    Q-Goest: did you misread this article?

    Hello Q_Goest: many thanks for your reply and input. I am
    probally wrong but the shuttle tiles are only mentioned in
    passing the topic of this article is possible changes to
    the external fuel tank. The idea we are discussing here involves
    sandwitching the external fuel tank foam between 2 layers
    of silicone with an internal lightweight mesh of metal for
    structural strenght. If I was asked to travel I don't ever
    fly and always travel Greyhound (sometime Amtrack).

    I have 20 years experience in consulting with government
    in other fields and my work has lead to the creation of 5 or
    6 federal statutes. As your comment suggest changes in NASA
    or Lockheed Martin are unlikely becuase large organizations
    don't like to change the way they operate and in fact
    the "contractors" and NASA mistake have lead to 2 shuttle
    disasters-another will end the program.

    I'm still kind of new to Physics Forums and haven't figured out
    how to delete my previous article" Modification of Space Shuttle Tiles?"
    to avoid confusion. Thanks for the technical details
    and input. Chris Walters

    PS There is a fair article of the Space Shuttle External
    Structure and function on line:

    Last edited: Jul 31, 2005
  7. Jul 31, 2005 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Hey Chris, I share your concerns about the possible demise of the shuttle program. And I'd agree that Lockheed Martin and NASA are highly unlikely to seek outside assistance unless it comes with considerable credentials and of course, lots and lots of experience. Unfortunately, there really isn't a whole lot of experience outside of the aerospace industry.

    I found a bit more information about it after doing a quick web search. Here, the article cites the liquid air entrapment problem I mentioned:

    Ref: CFD Review

    One solution is to have a blanket of helium underneath the foam which was the solution used for the Centaur upper stage used with the Atlas I. They've switched to a "fixed foam" insulation which is similar to the present shuttle foam, though I don't know the exact differences or how that insulation fairs in comparison.

    I saw somewhere that the Saturn rocket insulated from the inside of the tank. I've tried doing that for a cryogenic system that went down to -450, and it worked quite nicely, though I'll admit it was for helium gas and if it were a liquid there would be other issues to overcome, though certainly not insurmountable ones.

    One problem with silicone is that it will get extremely hard and brittle at the temperature the liquid hydrogen is at. I believe the Centaur uses epoxy, and I believe they've tried others, but I don't think silicone was ever tried because it's an elastomer that will likely crack due to thermal stresses. Even the epoxy might crack, but it's a much better material.

    Also, putting silicone on the outside may be problematic too. Aerodynamic heating during ascent results in very high temperatures and although silicone is a good high temperature elastomer, I suspect there will be issues, besides which it isn't impervious to air. The air will still get in. And of course there's the weight consideration.

    Maybe if there was some way of sucking the air out of the insulation, or filling it with helium, or providing a low flow helium purge on it. I know they considered a very high flow helium purge before going back to flight, but it was such an enormous amount, it became prohibitive. That isn't to say that much helium is required, but it gives you an idea what has been considered.
  8. Aug 1, 2005 #7
    Process Flown STS #1 & 2

    Attn: Sandy Russo
    Code 210.H
    Goddard Space Flight Center
    Greenbelt, MD 20771
    Office of Space Flight Space Shuttle

    It appears that NASA already used and discared Fire Resistant
    Latex flown in STS-1 and STS-2 as described in the Book
    Space Shuttle by Dennis Jenkins (1996) Library Congress
    #9694309. On page 242 Dennis describes the ET Thermal Protection
    System to include ETC PR2488 & Ablatos MA 255 and SLA 220.
    The Fire Retartant Laxtes was removed to save 545 lbs and
    $15,000 of cost to external fuel tank.

    I making an unsolicited bid proposal I didn't realize the
    idea of using latex or other rubber composite protection over
    the foam system was already tried. Chris Walters

    Media Reps Jan Wrather
    (303) 971-5967
    Harry Wadsworth
    (504) 257-0094
  9. Aug 1, 2005 #8


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Interesting info. Interesting also about the cost being mentioned. The savings on the latex treatment may be tiny, but the savings of putting that many pounds of payload into orbit is huge. A pound of payload to Geo used to be about $10,000 per pound. Not sure if that's come down much since 10 years ago, but I suspect it has. Anyway, the Shuttle isn't going to Geo of course, but I would guess it costs quite a bit to put 545 pounds of payload up.
  10. Aug 2, 2005 #9
    Question Modification of Entire Shuttle Program

    Question Modification of Space Shuttle System[/br]
    Based on Improved Use of Existing Assets​

    This is a generic idea which NASA refers to as an unsolicted bid to improve the use of existing space assets to extend the life of the space shuttle system and improve safety. It is believed the existing system could be reverse engineered to create a system which has fewer complexities and would be stastically less likely to fail:

    #1 Replacement of Shuttle Outer Skin​

    1. The shuttle would be stipped of it's various outer thermal tiles to the inner aluminum skin

    2. A system of lightweight inner tiles would be place around the inner aluminum skin with an inner gasget of either silicone or other latex.

    3. An out skin of possibly of titanium or other high tensile metal would form the shuttle outer skin.

    4. We would need to create a small model to show the new configuration of outer skin of metal; inner layer of tiles; and inner layer of aluminium

    #2 Revised Mission Profiles​

    1. As the shuttle is basically a "space plane" it designed to spend most of it's time in orbit

    2. When not in use the shuttle is docked on an oribital pivot or triangle with the other shuttles for maintence; fueling; and other aspects of mission preparation

    3. Mission expendables are regularily lofted into orbit by what the Russians currently are experts at "big dumb rockets" which are reported to be magnitudes of order cheaper than shuttle launches and can easily include personnel and even science projects.

    4. If the Russians are experts in "big dumb rockets" ask the space partners to use their expertise on this facet of the operations.

    5. The shuttle would have to under go modifications to include docking devices on the wing tips; nose; under belly and probally under the tail to accomodate being moved by a remote space tractor.

    6. The shuttle revised program requires few if any travels to earth and has modifications to include refueling in space (details not explained here); ongoing maintence in space by a small resident crew.

    #3 Use of Cocoon​

    1. The Space Shuttle cocoon is an artifact which is lofted into orbit by "big dumb rockets" and designed to fit over the shuttle like a glove when it returns to earth.

    2. The cocoon is metal shaped in the form of the front and sides of the shuttle covered with a extra heavy amount of thermal protection.

    3. The space shuttle docks with the "cocoon" and attached by hard points in the nose; wing; and then then begins it decent

    4. The cocoon is designed to take all the heat of reentry while permitting the shuttle inside to use it's front thrusters; rear engine; and wing slats to manuver

    5. When the Shuttle has decended and slowed enough the cocoon is jetisoned by simply flying the shuttle upside down and backwards where air pressure will cause it to slip off

    6. The space shuttle then lands as it would normally

    #4 Discussion of Reverse Engineering​

    It seems plausible that many of the design flaws in the current space shuttle system were created in the 1970's when engineers tried to incorporate too many new and untried technologies. Reverse engineering and revision of the space shuttle mission profile means the vehicles spend most of their time parked in space instead of the in the hangar. The Shuttle would be used primarily to fly only on missions in space instead of making endless trips too and from the earth as a sort of low class ferry for shuttle crews.
  11. Aug 3, 2005 #10
    ICE is the problem

    simple solution
    move the launch site to a low humid envroment
    like a desert
    as the problem ain't the foam
    it is ICE the forms from the very humid air in FLA esp on a ocean coastal envroment
    that hits the tiles and breaks them not just the foam

    btw they have an other site vandenburg AFB in Cal in a dry lake bed

    or they could move back to the original site in new mex that was a desert site white sands

  12. Aug 3, 2005 #11
    STS 1 & 2 already flew with special chemcial seals

    Hello Danger & Ray: and thanks for your input. We learned that
    the process of sealing the foam was already flown on
    STS Missions #1 & #2 as cited further below.

    Astronuc certainly did have an excellent idea of placing
    stip heaters in a silicone or latex sealer around the

    The Cocoon or anyother proposed system if it could be designed
    and engineered would have to be tested in a wind tunnel on
    a model before it could actually be installed on the larger
    system. Consider Q-Goest previous estimates of $10,000
    a pound to lift materials into orbit and then consider the
    cost of lifting the shuttle into orbit 123 times. The
    billions in costs savings of leaving it in orbit might
    have paid for the costs of modifications and purchase of
    several more shuttle.

    I am somewhat new to physics forms and have made the
    mistake of having 2 similar conversations going on at
    the same time. Thanks again Danger-Chris

    Attn: Sandy Russo
    Code 210.H
    Goddard Space Flight Center
    Greenbelt, MD 20771
    Office of Space Flight Space Shuttle

    It appears that NASA already used and discared Fire Resistant
    Latex flown in STS-1 and STS-2 as described in the Book
    Space Shuttle by Dennis Jenkins (1996) Library Congress
    #9694309. On page 242 Dennis describes the ET Thermal Protection
    System to include ETC PR2488 & Ablatos MA 255 and SLA 220.
    The Fire Retartant Laxtes was removed to save 545 lbs and
    $15,000 of cost to external fuel tank.

    I making an unsolicited bid proposal I didn't realize the
    idea of using latex or other rubber composite protection over
    the foam system was already tried. Chris Walters

    Media Reps Jan Wrather
    (303) 971-5967
    Harry Wadsworth
    (504) 257-0094
  13. Aug 11, 2005 #12


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Hah! They are seriously consider the mesh or netting - finally! :rolleyes:

    Atlantis unlikely to fly in September
  14. Aug 15, 2005 #13
    Reply from Lockheed Martin

    Hello Astronuc:

    Thanks for your most recent reply. I got a nice reply from Lockheed Martin
    which is shown below. Hope whatever
    they try they test it on a model in a windtunnel

    I also considered your figure of $10,000 a pound
    to life the 165,000 empty pounds of the shuttle
    into orbit at a cost of $165 Million. This goes
    back to the idea of enormous saving to leave
    the shuttles parked in space and use "big
    dumb rockets" to lift cargo into space as
    much cheaper.

    From: "Buddy Nelson" <buddynelson@mac.com> Add to Address Book
    Subject: Re: Submit Unsolicited Bid External Fuel Tank-Research
    Date: Tue, 2 Aug 2005 10:21:15 -0700
    To: chrissaidthanks2002@yahoo.com
    CC: "Michelle Brown" <michelle.a.brown@lmco.com>,
    "Jan Wrather" <janet.wrather@lmco.com>,

    Mr. Walters -- Thanks very much for your ideas on the shuttle
    external tank.

    As you know, despite the foam shedding at the PAL ramp and a couple
    other areas of concern, Discovery actually suffered 80% fewer "dings"
    than average during launch. Nevertheless, we are working closely with
    NASA to address and fix those few areas of the tank that remain

    We appreciate your suggestions.

    Best regards,

    Buddy Nelson
    Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?

Similar Discussions: Proposal Modify Shuttle Fuel Tank
  1. Shuttle Sensor (Replies: 2)

  2. Space shuttle (Replies: 7)