The physical cause of Space Shuttle Columbia's catastrophic failure was a breach in its thermal protection system, caused by a piece of external tank insulating foam (SOFI) separating from the external tank and striking the leading edge of the left wing of the orbiter. Consequently, there is an urgent need for a rapid, robust and life-circle oriented nondestructive testing (NDT) technique capable of inspecting the SOFI as well as the orbiter's protective heat tiles and its fuselage prior and subsequent to a launch. Microwave and millimeter wave NDT methods have shown great potential to achieve these goals using real focused reflectometer techniques and synthetic aperture focused techniques. This paper presents recent results of an investigation for the purpose of detecting anomalies such as debonds and corrosion in the structurally complex multi-sectioned protective heat tiles using a real focused 150 GHz (D-band) reflectometer and wide-band millimeter wave holography at 18-26.5 GHz (K-band) and 33-50 GHz (Q-band). The results of these investigations clearly show the utility of millimeter wave NDT methods for detecting such anomalies. Both methods provide a significant amount of information about the nature of an anomaly including size and location.

Meeting Name

IEEE Instrumentation and Measurement Technology Conference: Synergy of Science and Technology in Instrumentation and Measurement (2007: May 1-3, Warsaw, Poland)


Electrical and Computer Engineering


George C. Marshall Space Flight Center

Keywords and Phrases

Inspection; Millimetre Wave Imaging; Nondestructive Testing; Space Vehicles; Composite Testing And Evaluation; Microwave And Millimeter Wave Imaging; Heat Tiles; High Resolution; Millimeter Waves; Nondestructive Inspecting; Space Shuttle

International Standard Book Number (ISBN)


International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)


Document Type

Article - Conference proceedings

Document Version

Final Version

File Type





© 2007 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 May 2007