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Delays For Shuttle Program?

Article written: 21 Mar , 2008
Updated: 26 Dec , 2015
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With the current shuttle mission going so well, this news is a little depressing. Future space shuttle missions may be delayed because a backlog of work is developing on external fuel tanks for the shuttles. The tank used by Endeavour for the current mission was the last in the inventory of ET’s built before the 2003 Columbia disaster. The next shuttle flight, scheduled for late May, will use the first of the new design of tanks that include improvements to help eliminate foam shedding. But production issues with subsequent tanks may force delays for future missions, including Atlantis’ STS-125 mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope, currently targeted for August 28. If the delays amount to more than a couple of months, it’s possible the Hubble could give out before the shuttle could get there because of failing batteries and gyroscopes.

Since for the Hubble mission, the shuttle wouldn’t be going to the International Space Station, there would be no safe haven option for Atlantis’ crew if major heat shield damage occurs. The station and Hubble are in different orbits and the shuttle does not have the ability to move from one to the other. As a result, NASA approved plans to have a second shuttle, Endeavour, ready for launch on a rescue mission just in case.

That means NASA needs two ready-to-fly external tanks for the Hubble mission. One should be ready, no problem, but the second one is the issue. Manpower and production issues are the main problems. The people at Michoud had to redo much of the work on existing fuel tanks, and then they took a direct hit from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Some workers moved elsewhere, and the program has not been at peak production since. Additional unplanned work has also caused delays, such as the upgrade to the fuel sensors that plagued the last shuttle tank, used for the STS-122 mission.

For now, the Hubble mission remains officially scheduled for August 28, but some sources say the mission could be delayed to October. More on this as the picture becomes clearer and the story develops.

Original News Source: CBS News Space Place


12 Responses

  1. Richard Callaby says

    Too bad that the shuttle program is going to be delayed yet again! I am getting tired of all these delays. We spend billions on the space program, although not nearly as much as the military, so shouldn’t we expect some redundancy and better production cycles? I think as an American tax payer we should. Just my opinion of course.

  2. William Wagner says

    Having worked on space equipment, let me just say: putting together something like this isn’t like putting together a car. The error tolerances are much smaller, as you can possibly imagine.
    Plus, since most of these components are custom made, we are falling into the same manufacturing model that we had in the early 1800’s: a few skilled craftsmen hand-build each part. And, of course, if one component isn’t quite right (but isn’t determined to be wrong until it hits the component assembly phase), you have to dig up one of those craftsmen and get him to build another part, by hand, of course.

    Now, if we could set up a regular factory for spacecraft, you’ll see the delays shrink. Unfortunately, this will probably require a number of people having their own shuttles, which I don’t forsee any time soon.

  3. Alex Black says

    The Russians have been using the assembly-line style of rocket and capsule manufacture for decades, and it has served them very well indeed. It was a clever, obvious, and cheap (relatively speaking) method of running a space program. There are a *few* things we could learn from them.

  4. peter morley says

    why not let esa service Hubble telescope,or the chinese or the japanese

  5. joe says

    sounds like something useful they need ot throw some more money at. It’s amazing how delays dissappear when there is a financial incentive,

  6. owen says

    We should give funding to private companies to start up production of space shuttle components. This would create alot more jobs in the space industry so more people would get the qualifications required to work in the industry stopping these types of problems from happening.

  7. William Wagner says

    Private companies do the manufacturing now. NASA contracts each component out to various companies; like Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Michaud, etc. They don’t assembly-line the parts: they have techs who, in addition to their other jobs, build shuttle components.

    With low numbers of production comes less financial incentive to assembly-line the parts. Why have a factory that only needs to be used once a year for a short period of time???

    And, while I’m not sure about the ESA, I know neither the Chinese nor the Japanese have a bus that could send a manned mission out into space, and we haven’t perfected a robotic “repairman” yet, although we’re working on it.

  8. Greg says

    How many years do they need to retool after the Katrina disaster? How incompetent are these companies that NASA contracts with?

  9. von Dawson's Express says

    There’s always an excuse with NASA, am getting bored with it all, I don’t think they will make it to the moon… It seem’s to take for ever. We should have had colonies on both the moon and Mars by now.
    Think I’ll take up train-spotting, at least something happens there!
    As for production tolerances thats a crock of shite, I have worked on Military equipment for some 33 years and it was never a problem.
    I don’t think theres any old style ‘bosses’ to tell people to get of there lazy arses into gear and get on with it, COME ON NASA MOVE IT!!!!

  10. RUF says

    Remember, NASA is a government program, and I challenge anyone to cite an example of anything the gov’t can do, and do well. Also, NASA is run by administrators and buearucrats — not engineers and scientists any more.

    ’nuff said….

  11. ANTHONY SAY'S says

    I think that nasa does delay allitle to much some times,but overall safety is the most important issue here,you all know how we all felt when the challenger (becouse of presure from administration to launch)went down and from columbia (becouse they didnt want to take the time to look at the ship with there cameras)came apart in front of our eyes so lets just be glad that they care about our crews rather than schedules..go nasa !!!

  12. alphonso richardson says

    Hey guys, it could be worse – they could’ve been serviced by the guys @ Heathrow Airport’s new Terminal 5 in the UK!!

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