WASHINGTON (AFP) — NASA said Tuesday it is focusing on the wiring linking crucial fuel gauges into the liquid hydrogen tank as the likely cause of failures that forced the US space agency to scrub the space shuttle's launch earlier this month.
Wayne Hale, manager of the shuttle program, said that earlier concerns that the sensors for the three faulty gauges of the shuttle's external fuel tank were faulty had proven wrong, and that now the agency was examining the wiring.
"We gleaned quite a bit of data today ... The data is indicating that we have a problem in what we call a feed-through connector," Hale said.
Testing Tuesday that involved the lengthy task of completely refilling the tank demonstrated the sensors themselves were okay, but that the problem that forced NASA to postpone the Atlantis shuttle mission from December 6 to January 10 still remained.
"We had problem today on three of those sensors and we captured the data indicating that we have a problem at the ... connectors that lead the wires from the inside of the liquid hydrogen tank to the exterior of the tank," Hale said.
"The sensors themselves were exonerated today in those tests, it's clearly a problem with the wiring coming in the tank," he said.
He said the connectors were multipart, and so required more examination to pinpoint the source of the problems.
"We are going to concentrate our efforts to understand what we can do to fix that and go fly again," Hale said.
"I have no info about the launch day; we are still on troubleshooting. We are not going to be driven by schedule on this one -- we will get to the bottom of this and make sure it's fixed once and for all, so we can fly safely for the rest of the program."
NASA last week announced it had postponed yet again the launch date for its Atlantis shuttle mission to January 10.
The mission was first due to launch on December 6 but was delayed several times after the fuel gauges acted up. The December launch was finally abandoned.
Atlantis is to carry the European Columbus laboratory to the International Space Station, an orbiting platform hundreds of miles above Earth which is intended as a jumping-off point for deeper space exploration.
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