Hitting Home That the Space Shuttle Program is Ending

[/caption]

As NASA’s space shuttles head towards retirement, events are starting to happen now that are “lasts” for the program. On April 13, 2010 Atlantis was rolled over to the Vehicle Assembly Building for what is likely the last time. The workers at Kennedy Space Center are preparing Atlantis for its final flight, STS-132, currently scheduled for launch in mid-May 2010, and in the VAB the orbiter will be mated to the External Tank and solid rocket boosters. Thanks to photographer Alan Walters, Universe Today hopes to be able to chronicle these final events as the storied space shuttle program comes to an end. Of course, with NASA’s future seemingly in a state of flux, there’s a small possibility additional shuttle flights will be added, but enjoy this gallery of Alan’s wonderful pictures showing what is scheduled to be Atlantis’ final rollover.

Atlantis just leaving the Orbiter Processing Facility. Image credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today

Atlantis moving to the Vehicle Assembly Building. Image credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today
Atlantis, head on! Image credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today
Atlantis during the last rollover to the VAB. Image credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today
The aft end of Atlantis, as seen during the rollover. Image credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today
Atlantis during its likely last rollover to the VAB. Image credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today
Atlantis entering the VAB for what is likely the last time. Image credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today

STS-122 Space Shuttle Mission Rockets to Space

210618main_image_1014_946-710.thumbnail.jpg

Defying a bleak weather forecast, space shuttle Atlantis rocketed into space on Thursday, February 7, on its way to the International Space Station with a new science laboratory. The STS-122 mission had been delayed by a faulty fuel sensor, and was originally scheduled to launch last December. But today there were no problems with the sensor during fueling and the shuttle lifted off flawlessly at 2:45 p.m. EST. On board is a seven member crew and the European Space Agency’s $1.9 billion Columbus science module, Europe’s main contribution to the ISS. Atlantis will rendezvous with the station on Saturday, Feb. 9. The launch came seven years to the day after Atlantis carried NASA’ science laboratory named Destiny to the space station.

“It was a pretty clean launch,” astronaut Jim Dutton radioed the shuttle crew from mission control following the launch. “We did see, at about MET 2:13 (two minutes and 13 seconds after launch) a few piece of debris, they think at least three, that came off inboard of the LO2 (liquid oxygen) feedline just aft of the starboard bipod leg. The debris assessment team indicated they didn’t identify an impact at the time and it’s obviously under evaluation.”

The crew of Atlantis will now check out its systems and inspect the heat shield while chasing down the space station. There will be three spacewalks during the flight so astronauts can attach the Columbus lab and connect its power and fluid lines.

Atlantis’ liftoff came despite concerns that a weather front would interfere with the launch. But the weather cooperated for an on-time launch.

Installing Columbus, named after the 15th-century Italian explorer, is the main task for the 121st space shuttle mission.

“Columbus has discovered a new world, and I think that with Columbus we are discovering a totally new world,” Jean Jacques Dordain, ESA’s director general, said after the launch.

Atlantis’ seven-member crew includes two Europeans, Germany’s Hans Schlegel and France’s Leopold Eyharts. US astronauts are Commander Steven Frick, pilot Alan Poindexter, and mission specialists Leland Melvin, Rex Walheim, and Stanley Love.

“It’s great to have two laboratories in space,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations.

The mission is scheduled to last 11 days.

Original News Source: NASA Press Release

Shuttle Launch Date Still Uncertain

atlantis_2_thumbnail.thumbnail.jpg

NASA officials are hoping that the repairs to space shuttle Atlantis’ fuel sensor system will be completed in time for a January 24 launch date for the STS-122 mission to the International Space Station. But in a January 3rd press briefing, John Shannon, deputy manager of the shuttle program told reporters that a February 2nd or 7th launch date is more probable given the testing and the work required.

“There’s no way we’re going to be earlier than Jan. 24,” Shannon said. “I would say it is a stretch to think we would make the 24th, that would require the weather to cooperate out at the Kennedy Space Center, it would require no hitches in any of the testing.”

A suspect connector in the engine cutoff (ECO) fuel sensor system was removed from the shuttle’s external tank and is being tested at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. If the tests there don’t replicate the false readings that occurred during two launch attempts in early December, another on-pad fueling test might be required to collect additional data. If so, the launch could be delayed to Feb. 2 at the earliest.

A fueling test performed on December 18 isolated the problem to the 1 1/2-by-3 inch connector called a pass-through connector, located both inside and outside the tank. The wires for all four ECO sensors pass through the same connector. From the data of that test, engineers believe the problem lies in gaps between pins and sockets on the external side of the pass-through connector when the system is chilled to cryogenic temperatures, as when the tank is filled with liquid hydrogen and oxygen.

“It’s a difficult problem,” Shannon said. “I’m not making excuses here, but at liquid hydrogen temperatures is the only time it shows up so you have to set up a test that uses liquid hydrogen. We’re very interested. This is the first time we’ve removed the hardware from a vehicle and had the opportunity to test it without disturbing it before hand. So it will be interesting to find out.”

Engineers are now working on installing new connectors to the tank.

“All of those changes, it’s fairly simple, it’s a fairly elegant change and we feel very confident that if the problem is where we think it is, between the external connector and the feed through, that this will solve that,” Shannon said. “Now, if you look at the schedule, we’re going to have new external connectors and feed-through assemblies at KSC this weekend and we’re going to proceed with installing that on external tank Number 125, which is the one Atlantis is currently mated to. We expect that work to be done by next Thursday.”

“But I asked the team to go ahead and protect that date (Jan. 24) as the earliest date that we could possibly go,” Shannon continued. “I think it is much more likely that we’ll be ready to go somewhere in the February 2 to February 7 timeframe, given we don’t have any additional findings as we go through our testing.”

Another timing issue to deal with is the scheduled Feb. 7 launch of a Russian Progress supply ship to the ISS. Joint U.S.-Russian space station flight rules don’t allow a Progress docking during a shuttle visit. If the Russians won’t change their launch date, Atlantis would have to take off by Jan. 27 or the flight would slip to sometime around Feb. 9 in order to get the Progress docked before the shuttle arrives.

Also, NASA originally planned to launch the shuttle Endeavour on the next mission to the ISS on Feb. 14. But the Atlantis delay will force a subsequent delay for Endeavour. Shannon said that NASA typically needs five weeks between launches to get ready for the next flight.

Original News Source: NASA News Audio

Day of Troubleshooting Leads to Clues for Shuttle and ISS

nasa_logo.thumbnail.gif

Tuesday, December 18 was a day of major troubleshooting for NASA, as the space agency tries to hunt down the causes of problems plaguing both the shuttle and the International Space Station. While the day ended with few definitive answers, NASA officials said the data they gathered — and even what they didn’t find — will help them make strides towards solving the issues.

A tanking test on the shuttle’s external fuel tank helped narrow down a problem with the engine cutoff sensors to a “pass-through” connector in the system, but shuttle program manager Wayne Hale said the exact problem is not yet known.

“Exactly what we’ve got to do and where in this three-part connector we have to do it is a little bit of work ahead of us,” he said. “I’m just pleased as punch we know it’s in the connector and not some other place in the 100 feet or so of wiring and sensors and electronic boxes so we know what area to concentrate our efforts.”

But how much work the fix will entail, or how the repairs might affect the proposed January 10 launch date is also in question.

“I do not have any information about a launch date today,” Hale said. “Where the troubleshooting and replacement and repair work leads us will determine what the launch date’s going to be. We are not going to be driven by schedule on this one. We need to get to the bottom of this, fix it and make sure it’s fixed once and for all and then we can fly safely through the rest of the program, at least in this area.”

However, Hale said he felt the problems could be turned around in fairly short order.
He said the problem appears to be temperature related, or perhaps related to the tightly sealed, almost vacuum like conditions the connector operates in.

The 1 1/2-by-3 inch connector is called a pass-through connector because it is located both inside and outside the tank. The part that will be difficult to get to is the socket connector on the inside of the tank. Engineers would have to go inside the ET through a “man-hole cover” in the bottom of the tank, and that would entail a longer time to fix the problem.

Engineers are still troubleshooting some issues in bench tests away from the shuttle, and more data will be presented to program managers on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, two ISS astronauts conducted a seven hour spacewalk on Tuesday, inspecting problems with two unrelated mechanisms that allow the station’s solar wings to track the sun for power. It was the 100th EVA in support of station construction and maintenence.

Station commander Peggy Whitson and flight engineer Dan Tani first looked at a malfunctioning beta gimbal assembly that tilts the the starboard solar arrays to face the sun. Engineers thought that perhaps a micrometeoroid hit may have damaged the device, but the astronauts found no evidence of any impacts. The spacewalkers temporarily disconnected cables and a subsequent test found that the motor most likely is the problem. A new motor will be installed during the next shuttle mission.

The issues with the solar array rotary joint, a huge mechanism that also automatically rotates the solar arrays to face the sun, will require more work, contemplation and likely several spacewalks to fix. No “smoking gun” was found as to what is causing the joint to vibrate and display electrical spikes. In addition, metal shavings were found during an earlier inspection of the SARJ. Space station program manager Mike Suffredini said repairs probably won’t begin until next fall after a station crew can be trained to repair the joint. The shuttle crews “to-do” lists are already filled for the remaining shuttle flights in order to finish the construction of the ISS.

Mike Suffredini said the station team is “challenged” by the issues they are facing in the two repairs.

“The fact that it (the SARJ) looked as we expected is an enormous amount of information for us,” said Sufradini. “It would be really nice if something stood out and said ‘hey, I’m the cause of your problem,’ but we didn’t get that.”

Original News Source: NASA TV