2009

Computerized Machine for Cutting Space Shuttle Thermal Tiles

A report presents the concept of a machine aboard the space shuttle that would cut oversized thermal-tile blanks to precise sizes and shapes needed to replace tiles that were damaged or lost during ascent to orbit. The machine would include a computer-controlled jigsaw enclosed in a clear acrylic shell that would prevent escape of cutting debris. A vacuum motor would collect the debris into a reservoir and would hold a tile blank securely in place. A database stored in the computer would contain the unique shape and dimensions of every tile.

Once a broken or missing tile was identified, its identification number would be entered into the computer, wherein the cutting pattern associated with that number would be retrieved from the database. A tile blank would be locked into a crib in the machine, the shell would be closed (proximity sensors would prevent activation of the machine while the shell was open), and a “cut” command would be sent from the computer. A blade would be moved around the crib like a plotter, cutting the tile to the required size and shape. Once the tile was cut, an astronaut would take a space walk for installation.

This work was done by Luis E. Ramirez and Lisa A. Reuter of The Boeing Co. for Johnson Space Center. For further information, contact the JSC Innovation Partnerships Office at (281) 483-3809. MSC-24140-1

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