January 30, 1998
Standing 154 feet tall when mated to a Shuttle orbiter, the external tank holds a maximum of 143,351 gallons of liquid oxygen and 385,265 gallons of liquid hydrogen. These cryogenic propellants are used by the Shuttle's three main engines during liftoff and ascent. When the propellants are expended, the tank separates from the orbiter about nine minutes after liftoff and burns-up upon re-entry into the earth's atmosphere.
From the outside, the new orange colored tank appears identical to tanks currently used on Shuttle flights. Major changes, however, include the use of new materials and a revised internal design. The liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen tanks are constructed of aluminum lithium - a lighter, stronger material than the metal alloy currently used. Also, the redesigned walls of the liquid hydrogen tank were machined to provide additional strength and stability.
Once on dock at KSC's turn basin, the tank will be transported across the street to the Vehicle Assembly Building where it will be mated in February to the twin solid rocket boosters. Space Shuttle Discovery is currently scheduled to be mated to the external tank in mid-April. Discovery and the new super lightweight tank are targeted for launch on mission STS-91 on May 28, 1998.