Monday, March 23, 2009

So how are the Solid Rocket Boosters retrieved?

As soon as the solid rocket boosters are jettisoned from the space shuttle, they splash down into the Atlantic Ocean. The retrieval ships, Liberty Star and Freedom Star, are already onsite about 9.2-11.5 miles from the splash down area. Each ship recovers one booster.

Upon arrival, the team first conducts a visual assessment of the flight hardware. The main parachutes are the first items to be brought on board. Their shroud lines are wound onto each of three of the four reels on the ship's deck. The drogue parachute, attached to the frustum, is reeled onto the fourth reel until the frustum is approximately 50 feet astern of the ship. The 5,000-pound frustum is then lifted from the water.

Once the chutes and frustum are recovered, the dive team prepares for booster recovery. Two small inflatable boats, with retrieval divers aboard, are deployed to install a Diver-Operated Plug (DOP) in the nozzle of the booster. The DOP is 22 feet in length and weighs 1,100 pounds. It is neutrally buoyant in water, meaning it neither floats nor sinks, and is easily guided to the aft skirt at a depth of about 110 feet by the divers. A quick inspection of the nozzle is conducted and then the DOP is inserted into the booster nozzle. Once the DOP legs are locked in place and the nozzle sealed, an air hose is attached from the ship.

The second dive team double-checks the aft skirt and DOP installation to ensure there are no problems. After the second dive is completed, dewatering operations begin by pumping air from the ship through the DOP and into the booster, displacing the water within the casing. In doing this, the booster rises in the water until it becomes top-heavy. It falls horizontally, like a log in the water. Air pumping continues until all water is expelled from the empty casing.

The final step in the ocean retrieval procedure is to connect the ship's tow line. Once the tow connection is made, the divers return to the ship everyone returns to the hangar on at Cape Canaveral Air Station.

Below are some pictures from the booster retrieval after the STS-119 launch!!!


Anonymous said...

This article has been added to the Astronomy Link List.

Anonymous said...

Find videos of the camera SRBs and watch them all the way to splashdown. Now that would be heck of a ride.

Damaris Sarria Toepel said...

Good suggestion!! When I go talk to schools, I have two videos playing in the background while I'm taking questions. They are just so awesome to watch!

Here's a video for those who have not seen a launch to splashdown of the SRBs.

BrianShiro said...

This was very informative. Thanks for sharing.