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17-inch Orbiter/External Tank Disconnects

Each mated pair of 17-inch disconnects contains two flapper valves: one on the orbiter side and one on the external tank side. Both valves in each disconnect pair are opened to permit propellant flow between the orbiter and the external tank. Prior to separation from the external tank, both valves in each mated pair of disconnects are commanded closed by pneumatic (helium) pressure from the main propulsion system. The closure of both valves in each disconnect pair prevents propellant discharge from the external tank or orbiter at external tank separation. Valve closure on the orbiter side of each disconnect also prevents contamination of the orbiter main propulsion system during landing and ground operations.

Inadvertent closure of either valve in a 17-inch disconnect during main engine thrusting would stop propellant flow from the external tank to all three main engines. Catastrophic failure of the main engines and external tank feed lines would result.

To prevent inadvertent closure of the 17-inch disconnect valves during the space shuttle main engine thrusting period, a latch mechanism was added in each orbiter half of the disconnect. The latch mechanism provides a mechanical backup to the normal fluid-induced-open forces. The latch is mounted on a shaft in the flowstream so that it overlaps both flappers and obstructs closure for any reason.

In preparation for external tank separation, both valves in each 17-inch disconnect are commanded closed. Pneumatic pressure from the main propulsion system causes the latch actuator to rotate the shaft in each orbiter 17-inch disconnect 90 degrees, thus freeing the flapper valves to close as required for external tank separation.

A backup mechanical separation capability is provided in case a latch pneumatic actuator malfunctions. When the orbiter umbilical initially moves away from the ET umbilical, the mechanical latch disengages from the ET flapper valve and permits the orbiter disconnect flapper to toggle the latch. This action permits both flappers to close.

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 04/07/2002
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