Shuttle’s final fuel tank arrives

Tugboats towing NASA's Pegasus barge carrying External Tank-138

Tugboats tow NASA's Pegasus barge carrying External Tank-138 on the Banana River toward Launch Complex 39. The barge delivered the external fuel tank to the turn basin dock at NASA's Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, where it was offloaded and moved into the Vehicle Assembly Building.

The last space shuttle mission, STS-134, is due for lift-off in February next year. During the flight, shuttle Endeavour will transport the final large components and supplies up to the International Space Station.

The largest part of a space shuttle “stack” is the External Tank (ET), upon which the shuttle sits and from which it draws the hydrogen and oxygen that powers its three main engines.

Each ET is 46.9 metres high, 8.4 metres wide and has an empty mass of 26,500 kilograms. Once fully fuelled on the launch pad, its mass is a whopping 760,000 kilograms.

ETs are manufactured by Lockheed Martin at Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, and shipped to Kennedy aboard a barge.

This series of photos shows the arrival of ET-138, the last newly manufactured tank, designated to fly on Endeavour’s STS-134 mission.

The External Tank is offloaded from the barge.

The External Tank is offloaded from the barge.

The huge space shuttle External Tank is wheeled towards the Vehicle Assembly Building.

The huge space shuttle External Tank is wheeled towards the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Getting closer to the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Getting closer to the Vehicle Assembly Building.

External Tank-138 is towed through the massive doors into the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building

External Tank-138 is towed through the massive doors into the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building

The External Tank is inside the Vehicle Assembly Building

Once the External Tank is inside the Vehicle Assembly Building, workers attach cables with which to lift the Tank into a vertical position.

The External Tank is lifted into the air

The External Tank is lifted into the air prior to being rotated upright.

The External Tank hangs at an angle during the slow process of tilting it upright.

The External Tank hangs at an angle during the slow process of tilting it upright.

The External Tank now upright

With the External Tank now upright, workers prepare it for its lift onto a test cell where it will be checked out before launch.

An overhead view of External Tank-138 suspended by a massive crane

An overhead view shows External Tank-138 suspended by a huge crane above the transfer aisle in the Vehicle Assembly Building

External Tank-138 is lifted high above the transfer aisle

External Tank-138 is lifted high above the transfer aisle, prior to its move to a test cell.

The Tank has been lifted into the upper levels of a high bay in the Vehicle Assembly Building

The Tank has been lifted into the upper levels of a high bay in the Vehicle Assembly Building. The final step was to lower it onto a test stand for checking before launch.

Story by Jonathan Nally, Editor, SpaceInfo.com.au

Images courtesy of NASA and photographers Jack Pfaller, Jim Grossmann and Dimitri Gerondidakis.

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  1. Angie says:

    Wow – Super Duper – great photos –