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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 June 2006, 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK
Shuttle fuel tank fit for flight
Shuttle Discovery being moved (AP)
Astronauts will climb aboard Discovery next Thursday for a practice countdown
The US space agency has approved design changes to the space shuttle's fuel tank, clearing the way for the second flight since the loss of Columbia.

A formal launch date will be set next week, but Nasa officials said Discovery could take off as early as 1 July.

Space shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry three years ago, killing all seven astronauts.

A chunk of foam insulation fell off its fuel tank during launch, hitting a wing and damaging the heat shield.

After changes were made, Discovery was launched in July 2005. But a large foam chunk dropped off the fuel tank again, although it did not strike the orbiter.

To solve the problem, engineers proposed removing foam insulation designed to provide a windshield for fuel pressure lines and electrical cabling along the outside of the fuel tank.

After almost a year of testing and analysis, managers have decided the shuttle is safe to fly with the modifications.

"The tests proved that the cable trays and pressurisation lines are aerodynamically capable of withstanding the launch," said Kyle Herring, a spokesman at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

"This is a big one because it certifies the tank to fly with this major change."

Discovery's launch window extends from 1 July to 19 July. A final launch date will be set next week after the completion of a two-day flight readiness review.




SEE ALSO
Space shuttle moved to launch pad
20 May 06 |  Americas
Nasa delays space shuttle launch
14 Mar 06 |  Americas
ISS 'to be completed as planned'
02 Mar 06 |  Science/Nature
Shuttle hopes for three flights
01 Mar 06 |  Science/Nature
Key role for 'British' astronaut
18 Feb 06 |  Science/Nature
Nasa spending to support shuttle
07 Feb 06 |  Science/Nature

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