STS-130 Shuttle flight facing delay due to Payload technical glitch

Caption: Overhead view of Tranquility & Cupola modules inside the Space Station Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center on Jan 8, 2010. Tranquility will be attached to ISS by STS 130 astronaut crew. Credit: Ken Kremer

(Editor’s Note: Ken Kremer is in Florida for Universe Today covering the pre-launch activities of Endeavour.)

The launch of Shuttle Endeavour on the STS 130 flight now faces a potential delay due to technical problems with the external ammonia connecting lines which are designed to provide critical cooling capability to the new Tranquility module. Tranquility is a pressurized module being brought aloft as payload in the cargo bay of Endeavour on the STS 130 mission. Launch of Endeavour is currently set for 4:39 AM on Feb. 7.

NASA spokesman Allard Beutel told me Friday afternoon Jan 8 that, “As space station and space shuttle teams prepared for February’s launch of Endeavour, a high-pressure ammonia jumper hose assembly failed during a prelaunch test Thursday. Four such hoses, which will be used to connect the new Tranquility module to the station’s cooling system, are to be installed and activated by spacewalkers during the STS-130 mission.”

Delivery and attachment of Tranquility to the International Space Station (ISS) is the primary goal of STS 130. Its like adding a new room to your house. Tranquility will provide extra living and work space for the astronaut residents aboard the ISS.

NASA engineering teams are now working diligently to try and rectify the hose problems through additional testing, developing alternative work arounds and data evaluation. As they continue searching for solutions throughout the weekend and beyond, its not clear at this point if they can maintain the targeted Feb 7 launch date or if the technical glitch will force a delay.

NASA is considering many options on how to proceed and an on time lift off is still a possibility if the hoses can be cleared for flight as is. Some alternatives include delaying the launch for days if the hoses can be somehow modified quickly and easily, constructing new custom hoses or basically launching with the hose problems as is and living with the problem. This would require significantly revamping all the procedures for how the STS 130 crew would attach and activate Tranquility at the ISS. In this case the mission could potentially be shortened by deleting one or more of the planned three spacewalks. New high pressure ammonia hoses could then be built, delivered and installed on a future shuttle flight.

Image caption: NASA technician proudly enjoys his work preparing Tranquility for launch to the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer

A more drastic solution would be to switch the order of the remaining five shuttle flights and launch the STS 131 mission, currently slated for Mar. 18, ahead of STS 130. This alternative however would wreak havoc on this years schedule of the final flights before the shuttle is retired and appears less likely as an option, at least as of today. In order to switch the missions, Endeavour would necessarily have to be rolled back off Pad 39 A and be returned to wait inside the VAB since NASA now has only one functioning shuttle launch pad. The second pad, 39 B, was transferred to the Constellation program last May for launch of the Ares 1 X rocket. To accommodate the new Ares booster, Pad 39 B is being dismantled and is no longer capable of launching space shuttles.

Beutel said to me that, “NASA managers are assessing the possible options to address this. We should have a better idea where things are heading early next week”.

Just two days ago on Jan 6, I attended the rollout of Endeavour to Launch Pad 39 A during a week of uncommonly frigid weather here in Florida at the Kennedy Space Center and all systems remain go. There are no issues with Endeavour itself at this time and NASA is diligently taking care to shelter Endeavour at the pad from the cold and maintain it at a safe temperature with heaters and warm air purges. Pre-launch propellant servicing is in progress throughout the weekend.

NASA held a media briefing on Tranquility on Friday which I attended was able to observe Tranquility first hand inside the Space Station Processing Facility (see photos). The current plan is to place Tranquility inside the payload transport canister located nearby inside the facility and then transport it to the launch pad on Jan 15.

Tranquility is a new module that will house critical life support systems for the orbiting outpost as well as exercise gear important for maintaining the well being and stamina of the astronaut crew as they roam about the ISS. Tranquility will also be utilized for some science experiments. The Cupola observation module is joined to Tranquility. Both modules will be delivered to the ISS by the STS 130 crew.

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