The statement "While some of the individual tiles on the shuttle might last 10 missions" from this excellent answer has led a questioner to make the statement "someone here at Space Stack-Exchange wrote that non of Shuttle tiles survive more than 10 flights" in this question: Shuttle silica ceramics black tiles

While I believe the questioner is incorrectly interpreting the statement, it does lead to a question:

What was the operational life (not the 100 mission design life) of a typical shuttle tile? How many times did it fly?

I am looking for a credible reference that explicitly shows that at least one shuttle tile flew more than 10 missions.

Old and new tiles on a shuttle. Personal photograph taken in the OPF, May 7, 2008.

enter image description here

  • $\begingroup$ The tiles had identification numbers on them, so if you can find a list of when they retired which identification number, that may be a great option. $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Nov 18 '19 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ @MagicOctopusUrn sadly I no longer have access to the tile database, and I don't think it's public. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Nov 18 '19 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, the closest I could find is this: nasa.gov/aeroresearch/resources/artifact-opportunities/… it's probably, as you say, private :(. $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Nov 18 '19 at 16:53
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    $\begingroup$ Some places on the internet say it's ITAR and FOIA requests didn't work. shuttletiles.space $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Nov 18 '19 at 17:02
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    $\begingroup$ If we were lucky enough to get two images of the same part of an orbiter with the serial numbers of the tiles and taken at least 1 mission apart, we could make an estimate :) $\endgroup$ – BlueCoder Nov 18 '19 at 18:27

Shuttle tiles could demonstrably survive at least 27 missions over an interval of over 20 years.

When Columbia lifted off from Launch Complex 39-A at Kennedy Space Center on January 16, 2003, it superficially resembled the Orbiter that had first flown in 1981, and indeed many elements of its airframe dated back to its first flight. More than 44 percent of its tiles, and 41 of the 44 wing leading edge Reinforced Carbon-Carbon (RCC) panels were original equipment.

Source: CAIB report Volume 1 Chapter 1.6 Concluding Thoughts (emphasis mine)

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    $\begingroup$ Wow! Great find! $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Nov 20 '19 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ @MagicOctopusUrn You wouldn't believe the number of TPS documents I've read from NTRS over the last few days, only to come back to the good old CAIB. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Nov 20 '19 at 15:58
  • $\begingroup$ OK. So from this 44 percent of tiles, which were original equipment, how many went through repair or refurbishment. In NASA doc. you post is stated, that from 22 (or was it 22 panels + 22 seals and nose cap) RCC panels during Columbia lifetime of 27 flights, three must be replaced, 7 repair, 11 needed refurbishment - surface treatment. If impact break some tile RCG, could this tile be repair or simply must to be replaced. It looks unlikely to me, that impact of ice in the upper atmosphere during ascent could break them, but heat and pressure of reentry could not. $\endgroup$ – bigbang Nov 21 '19 at 12:02
  • $\begingroup$ Was material damage of black tiles (HRSI, TUFI, FRCI) on the bottom of the orbiter, worse that white (LRSI, TUFI) tiles on upper body of Orbiter. $\endgroup$ – bigbang Nov 21 '19 at 12:04

Well this is interesting. NASA offered educators Shuttle thermal tiles. On this page they state the following (emphasis mine)

All tiles in the Tiles for Teachers program are unflown. In general, flown tiles are only removed after they are damaged or need to be removed to service the orbiter. Since this is the case most flown tiles are in very bad condition and not circulated.

This seems to indicate they would be used until they no longer met specs, meaning there was no set schedule.

  • $\begingroup$ While that is cool, it doesn't answer the question in any way. Need a number. I'll edit the question to clarify. Not downvoting because question could have been perceived as ambiguous. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Nov 18 '19 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble I'm still looking for a number myself. If I had to hazard a guess at this point, I'll bet Discovery still has original tiles on her somewhere, which would mean over 17 years $\endgroup$ – Machavity Nov 18 '19 at 17:56
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble Oh my. One reason we might not get a better answer? NASA lost the tile records $\endgroup$ – Machavity Nov 18 '19 at 17:59
  • $\begingroup$ if only I had copied the thing when I had the chance. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Nov 18 '19 at 18:32
  • $\begingroup$ In this NASA doc. page 11 you can see TUFI tiles undamaged after 3 flights vs other HRSI tiles. ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20120016878.pdf TUFI tiles were stronger but because problems with weight and heat conductivity their use was limited only on some parts of the Orbiter. I understand Russell Borogove statement as that non of black tiles (HRSI,FRCI,TUFI) on the bottom of Orbiter survived more than 10 mission. Wiki claims that only white tiles-LRSI on upper body of Orbiter were design for 100 mission ( or were other types too ? ). $\endgroup$ – bigbang Nov 19 '19 at 21:47

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