its meant to operate in the cold of space, surely a little chilly winter weather is nothing by comparison!
NASA technicians are keeping space shuttle Endeavour nice and toasty ahead of its forthcoming STS-130 mission to the International Space Station, as Florida enjoys "unusually cold weather". Endeavour on the launchpad. Pic: NASA The shuttle is sitting on Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39A (see pic), protected from …
...the Shuttle is regularly exposed to the cold in space at -250 F / -156 C for days on end and operates just fine, natch. That's according to NASA:
Of course, while it's on the launch pad, there's still concern about rest of the stack such as joint expansion of the multi-segmented SRBs and whatnot. End of January hasn't been a great time for NASA's human spaceflight operations from what history has shown.
For a vehicle used to the cold of space it sounds daft that it is suffering down here on this warm molton cored globe...
What sort of temps are we actually talking about? what is cold for florida? are they really concerned about frosting and ice issues on the shuttle itself? or is it the boosters and tanks that are raising the concerns?
Presumably they have learnt not to launch if its too cold for the booster segement o-ring seals...
Ever heard of a vacuum flask? Hint: it prevents heat loss by surrounding a container with a partial vacuum. Shaded from the sun in space, you can still quite easily overheat and cook yourself to death if you don't have adequate heat dissipation. In the sunlight, you can roast quite easily.
Sure, over a long enough timespan a body in space not actively generating or absorbing heat will cool to a few degrees kelvin, but that isn't going to happen on a typical shuttle flight because it would require there to be no power and everyone to be dead.
So, repeat after me. Space is not cold. At least, not in any way that you understand.
The SRBs are the most obvious weak spot for low temperatures as the rubber O rings need to remain flexible. The revised SRBs now include electrical joint heaters to keep the rubber soft.
But low temperatures are a real problem as ice accumulates on metal surfaces. During take off this comes crashing loose from the gantries and can impact on the Orbiter, gouging the tiles, which dramatically affects the aerodynamics. After the Challenger launch, the tiles on the wreckage were found to have experienced hundreds of ice impacts in the very first seconds of the flight.
Finally, all that ice makes the metal surfaces of the pad slippery for workers.
As has been hinted at in other comments it's not the cold that's the problem, it's the ice sheets that form on the exposed surfaces that are. Even though space is "cold" after a fashion that's not a problem because it's a vacuum (more or less) so there's no moisture to freeze into sheets of ice. Those parts of the shuttle that are sensitive to cold temperatures (like say the people inside) are protected by various layers of insulation and heating (or cooling as appropriate) systems so no problems there.
Incidentally the lows at night in Florida have been getting down below freezing lately, so it's very possible that ice sheets could form on the shuttle.
All they need to do is lag the outside with frozen iguana and manatee corpses.
Ice formation is inevitable with the liquid fuels used in the shuttle's main engines and it is impossible to sufficiently lag the main fuel tank to prevent it, unless you don't mind the thing being so heavy that the engines can't get it off the ground.
Once in orbit and out of the humid stuff the shuttle then has to deal with the other side of the problem, excess heat from such things as the 150,000 degree solar wind, which is why the cargo bay doors have nice shiny radiators inside them.
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