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  U.S. Space & Rocket Center: Shuttle Pathfinder

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Author Topic:   U.S. Space & Rocket Center: Shuttle Pathfinder
Robert Pearlman
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From: Houston, TX
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posted 02-03-2014 09:20 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA STI Program video release
Pathfinder: Shuttle Exhibit

This video introduces the Pathfinder Shuttle Exhibit, a joint project between the Marshall Space Flight Center and the State of Alabama's Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville.

The exhibit features a never flown shuttle vehicle, Pathfinder, that was used in early ground tests in the shuttle program, as well as an actual external fuel tank and set of booster rockets.

The video includes footage of actual launches, the Pathfinder Shuttle Exhibit, and shots of the Space Camp at Alabama's Space and Rocket Center.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 02-03-2014 09:30 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The archival video provides a great early look at the Pathfinder. Did you know that two of its SSME nozzles flew on STS-1?

The video precedes the addition of the solid rocket boosters, which are special unto themselves. As this photo, courtesy Scott "Shuttleman" Phillips, reveals, the solid rocket boosters used in the Pathfinder exhibit were assembled from the filament-wound cases designed and built for polar launches from Space Launch Complex-6 (SLC-6) at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The dark filament was painted white to give the boosters the same appearance as those that launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Hart Sastrowardoyo
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From: Toms River, NJ,USA
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posted 02-03-2014 11:46 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Hart Sastrowardoyo   Click Here to Email Hart Sastrowardoyo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
So if SLC-6 had gone into operation, would Discovery have been launched with black and white SRBs, or would they have painted them?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 02-03-2014 12:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Discovery would have flown from SLC-6 with boosters that look very much like the SRBs pictured with Pathfinder above.

And we may still see filament boosters fly; they are being further developed by ATK for use with the Space Launch System.

Greggy_D
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From: Michigan
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posted 02-03-2014 02:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Greggy_D   Click Here to Email Greggy_D     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
The archival video provides a great early look at the Pathfinder. Did you know that two of its SSME nozzles flew on STS-1?
No kidding. I've always thought they were replicas. Looking back now at the pics of Pathfinder I took when my daughter and I attended Space Camp in 2012, they do look pretty authentic if not real. That's a neat piece of trivia.

JBoe
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From: Edgewater, MD, USA
Registered: Oct 2012

posted 02-03-2014 03:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for JBoe   Click Here to Email JBoe     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
And we may still see filament boosters fly; they are being further developed by ATK for use with the Space Launch System.
Part of my duties in my old office I had the opportunity to take a Solid Rocket Fundamentals course given by ATK Elkton, MD. Part of the course we got a tour of the facility which included the mixer (capable of mixing 30-36 tons of propellant), block houses for motor testing, propellant casing manufacturing, and the iconic Thiokol building. The black filament wrap is very thin, but amazingly strong and wrapped many times. I seem to remember they were using or testing the same concept for the nozzles.

p51
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From: Olympia, WA, USA
Registered: Sep 2011

posted 02-03-2014 06:38 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for posting this, I'd never seen any of this before.
quote:
Originally posted by Greggy_D:
I've always thought they were replicas. Looking back now at the pics of Pathfinder I took when my daughter and I attended Space Camp in 2012, they do look pretty authentic if not real.
I find this odd in a way, because they make a big deal about those being real. I've been to Space Camp twice with the adult program, and I've heard all about it each time.

dabolton
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From: Round Lake, IL, US
Registered: Jan 2009

posted 02-03-2014 07:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dabolton   Click Here to Email dabolton     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
...the solid rocket boosters used in the Pathfinder exhibit were assembled from the filament-wound cases designed and built for polar launches from Space Launch Complex-6 (SLC-6) at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Why would have a polar launch necessitated different SRB casings?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 02-03-2014 07:32 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
More thrust was needed to reach polar orbit with the planned payloads; the filament cases decreased the weight of the boosters, increasing their performance.

Hart Sastrowardoyo
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From: Toms River, NJ,USA
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posted 02-03-2014 08:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Hart Sastrowardoyo   Click Here to Email Hart Sastrowardoyo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Excuse the over-simplification, but basically since the Earth rotates from west to east, when one launches from KSC, the rotation gives you a little "oomph" in launching. Launch into a polar orbit you don't have the oomph.

dabolton
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From: Round Lake, IL, US
Registered: Jan 2009

posted 02-03-2014 09:51 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dabolton   Click Here to Email dabolton     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
...the filament cases decreased the weight of the boosters, increasing their performance.
So why not incorporate the lighter, more powerful boosters into the KSC launches then? Were they cost prohibitive?

Robert Pearlman
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From: Houston, TX
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posted 02-03-2014 09:58 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This is straying off-topic from Pathfinder, but the filament boosters had design issues — they weren't as structurally solid as the steel casings; they flexed under stress — and there was concern that they wouldn't hold up in flight. The SLC-6 launches never proceeded far enough for the development of the filament boosters to be completed.

Had the issues been worked out and had Discovery proved their design in flight, then it's possible the composite cases would have gone into use at Kennedy, too.

Jay Chladek
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From: Bellevue, NE, USA
Registered: Aug 2007

posted 02-03-2014 10:31 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The SRB nozzles and I believe possibly the nosecones from the original display were removed from Pathfinder and replaced either with replicas or other units that had concluded their operational use sometime in the early to mid 1990s. The basic hardware for those assemblies was the same as the standard SRBs.

NASA and the contractor if I recall correctly as a cost cutting measure pulled them off for refurbishment as flight articles to help save a bit of money and not have to make a new set. I presume they got used, but don't know what missions they flew on.

If you want to read a little bit about the history of the filament wound casings, Allan McDonald's book "Truth, Lies and O-Rings" does discuss it a bit as he was brought in on the SRB project when they were being made and qualified. While ATK (then Morton Thiokol) was the prime contractor for the normal SRBs, these babies were a co-development with Hercules Inc. I won't go into the specifics here as it isn't part of the Pathfinder story, but I will say if you read the book, you will find things rather interesting.

As for Pathfinder itself, it was essentially a fit check mockup built at KSC in the general dimensions of the shuttle to help make sure equipment and facilities designed for the shuttle would fit around it before Enterprise (and later Columbia) paid their first visits to KSC. Later, it was sent to Marshall to help with preparations for Enterprise's visit for the vibration testing.

The Pathfinder didn't look much like a shuttle back then except for its general layout. It was rebuilt into something that resembled an orbiter more closely for a space display in Japan and the USSRC got ahold of it after it came back to the states. I personally never got a chance to see it up close (just a brief glimpse in 2011 on my way back from STS-131) as I went to Space Camp before they got it. But I remember reading the literature on the museum's plans for it quite well as it was mentioned in all the Space Camp newsletters I got after my visit.

Robert Pearlman
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From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 02-04-2014 10:04 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Jay Chladek:
The Pathfinder didn't look much like a shuttle back then except for its general layout.
For those not familiar with Pathfinder's original configuration, here are a few photos.

SprocketCur
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From: Huntsville, AL
Registered: Mar 2011

posted 02-14-2014 09:50 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SprocketCur   Click Here to Email SprocketCur     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Just to make sure all bases are covered, the ET under Pathfinder is also the same tank that was used in SSME qualification testing at Stennis in the lead up to STS-1. It was partnered with the SSME Thrust Structure (also referred to as the Main Propulsion Test Article and sometimes the "Boattail"), which now sits in Shuttle Park.

You'll be glad to know that a complete re-vamp of all the signage in Shuttle Park is underway with corrected specs (it was shortened by about 3 feet for during the re-fit for Japan) on Pathfinder and other new/improved details!

hotdog
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From: Chattanooga, TN
Registered: Dec 2011

posted 02-14-2014 09:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for hotdog   Click Here to Email hotdog     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for the info! That is good news. Looking forward to seeing the new signage in the Shuttle Park. I'm guessing Pathfinder was shortened by 3 feet for transportation reasons? I imagine that had to affect the mounting of the orbiter onto the ET since the forward attachment strut would probably have to be moved to compensate for the reduction in length.

Speaking of the MPTA ET, here's an image I have of it in the test stand at Stennis, just before being mated with the MPTA "Boattail" assembly.

 photo 8640756561_4b4ebce91d_o_zps15427c56.jpg

I have several images of this ET from when it was at Marshall as well. If I recall correctly, it was the first ET ever built.

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