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RCS analysis of the reinforced carbon-carbon Tee-seals as potential "Flight Day 2" candidates in support of the Columbia accident investigation

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4 Author(s)
Hill, K. ; Air Force Res. Lab., Wright-Patterson AFB, OH, USA ; Gulick, J. ; Kent, B. ; Van, T.

During the Columbia Shuttle investigation, AFRL tried to identify a piece of on-orbit debris that originated from the Orbiter during its second day in space. This "Flight Day Two (FD2)" object was detected by UHF radar and tracked for three days before falling out of orbit. Extensive RCS measurements performed by AFRL and corresponding ballistic analysis by USAF Space Command narrowed the potential candidates down to just two possible classes of objects; (1) a section of reinforced carbon-carbon (RCC) leading edge panel acreage, and (2) a section of RCC "Tee-seals". During the investigation, AFRL was asked to estimate the UHF RCS of various whole and fragmentary Tee-seals originating between panel segment #6 and #11 on the shuttle Orbiter left wing, in order to compare with the on-orbit UHF RCS observations. Since actual Orbiter Tee-seal hardware, either whole or fractured, from the left wing area were not available, we predicted UHF RCS on various virtual Tee-seal fragment geometries to confirm or eliminate the Tee-seal as a candidate for the FD2 object. In this paper, we summarize our RCS predictions which conclusively show that a whole or partial RCC Tee-seal could not be the FD2 object. This left the RCC panel acreage as the only known object that satisfies both the on-orbit observed ballistic and UHF RCS data, a confirming piece of evidence in the Columbia investigation.

Published in:

Users Group Conference (DOD_UGC'04), 2004

Date of Conference:

7-11 June 2004