The final scheduled space shuttle flight of Endeavour that has been targeted for late November 2010 is now likely to move to January or even February of 2011 because the primary payload, the $1.5 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, won’t be delivered to KSC in time to support the earlier date. Additionally, the penultimate scheduled mission, STS-133 Discovery, currently slated for September 16, could be delayed until October. As we reported yesterday, the first hint of Endeavour’s delay came from the announcement of a new opportunity for students to send experiments to space on Endeavour, and now Florida Today reports Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana said it could even be February until the AMS is ready to go.
The White House and Congress are considering adding a third and final shuttle mission that could be flown next June. Each additional month of shuttle operations costs $100 million to $200 million. While the funding for shuttle missions technically only goes until the end of 2010, mission managers have said there is currently enough money in the shuttle budget for about two months of operations in 2011.
After that and possibly one more mission next summer, if funding is approved, Cabana, speaking at a National Space Club Florida Committee meeting, hopes to see KSC transition be able to support commercial space ventures and be less reliant on a single NASA program like Apollo, the shuttle or even Constellation.
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“What we don’t want to be in the future is tied to any one large program,” Cabana said.
The delay for the AMS involves switching out to magnets that will last longer in space, since operations of the ISS have been extended to 2020. Liquid helium would have been used cool the superconducting magnet’s temperature to near absolute zero. But tests showed the helium would dissipate withing 2-3 years, leaving the seven-ton experiment useless.
Source: Florida Today