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17-Inch Disconnect

Each mated pair of 17-inch disconnects contains two flapper valves, one on the orbiter side of the interface and one on the external tank side of the interface. Both valves in each disconnect pair are opened to permit propellant flow between the orbiter and the external tank. Before the separation of 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 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 space shuttle 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 main engine thrusting, a latch mechanism was added in the orbiter half of the disconnects. 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 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 (helium) pressure from the main propulsion system causes the latch actuator to rotate the latch shaft in each orbiter 17-inch disconnect 90 degrees, thus freeing the flapper valves to close as required for external tank separation.

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

During ground mating of the external tank to the orbiter, the latch engagement mechanism in each 17-inch disconnect provides a go/no-go verification that flapper angle rigging is within stability limits. Misrigged flappers will prevent full engagement of latch. The angle of each flapper in each disconnect is still carefully rigged within specific tolerances to assure basic stability independently of the latch safety feature.

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