Millimeter Wave Detection of Localized Anomalies in the Space Shuttle External Fuel Tank Insulating Foam and Acreage Heat Tiles

Sergey Kharkovsky, Missouri University of Science and Technology
R. Zoughi, Missouri University of Science and Technology
J. T. Case
F. L. Hepburn

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The Space Shuttle Columbia's catastrophic accident emphasizes the growing need for developing and applying effective, robust and life-cycle oriented nondestructive testing (NDT) methods for inspecting the shuttle external fuel tank spray on foam insulation (SOFI) and its protective acreage heat tiles. Millimeter wave NDT techniques were one of the methods chosen for evaluating their potential for inspecting these structures. Several panels with embedded anomalies (mainly voids) were produced and tested for this purpose. Near-field and far-field millimeter wave NDT methods were used for producing millimeter wave images of the anomalies in SOFI panel and heat tiles. This paper presents the results of an investigation for the purpose of detecting localized anomalies in two SOFI panels and a set of heat tiles. To this end, reflectometers at a relatively wide range of frequencies (Ka-band (26.5 - 40 GHz) to W-band (75 - 110 GHz)) and utilizing different types of radiators were employed. The results clearly illustrate the utility of these methods for this purpose.