Morton Thiokol Inc. dedicated a new $15 million automated X-ray facility Thursday that will meet new National Aeronautics and Space Administration inspection requirements for space shuttle solid rocket motors.
The facility, which has two 40-by-80-foot bays, will allow the rocket manufacturer to comply with standards imposed in the wake of the deadly January 1986 Challenger shuttle explosion, said Dick McQuivey, vice president of facilities and tests. The construction was jointly funded by NASA and Morton Thiokol.The X-ray facility will be used to more thoroughly check each rocket produced for the shuttle program at the northern Utah plant for flaws in insulation and solid propellant, said Dale Francis, Thiokol engineer. Even so, inspection time for each rocket will be cut from 72 hours to about 40 hours, he said.
The X-ray machines - one of them 1,600 times more powerful than a dentist's X-ray - will enable technicians to spot such flaws as separations in a rocket's insulation or air pockets in the solid propellant, Francis said.
To prevent radiation from leaking during the X-ray process, each bay is encased in concrete, McQuivey explained. The outside bay walls are 6 feet thick, while the wall between the two bays is 121/2 feet thick.
The doors, which close during the X-ray process, have 2 feet of concrete sandwiched between layers of lead and steel.
McQuivey said the segments are brought into the new building in a special transporter. They rest on "air bearing" deck that releases a thin film of pressurized air. Technicians are then able to move the deck into the bay.
The segment being examined also "floats" in a cradle of pressurized air so it can be rotated during the X-ray process.
McQuivey said the loading and unloading of film into the hollow center of a motor segment is done automatically along a conveyor belt.