How Close Was That Lightning to the Shuttle?

If you’re wondering why the first launch attempt for space shuttle Discovery was scrubbed early Tuesday morning, here’s your answer. Yikes! But what a gorgeous picture! And of course, the second launch attempt early Wednesday morning was called off when instrumentation for an 8-inch fill and drain valve on the shuttle’s external tank indicated the valve had failed to close. But yesterday, the valve functioned correctly five times during launch pad tests, NASA said. That means NASA will likely go ahead with a launch attempt at 04:22 GMT (12:22 a.m. ET) on Friday. But the anomaly remains unexplained, so it will be up to the mission management team to decide if the shuttle can fly as is, or if engineers need to know more about the issue. The decision won’t be made, however until the MMT meets Thursday afternoon, just hours before the scheduled liftoff time. As the saying goes, there’s a million parts on the shuttle and if only one is not working….

UPDATE: Launch now is targeted for no earlier than 11:59 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28, to allow engineers more time to develop plans for resolving the issue with the valve.

See below for a close-up of the lightning shot, to see how close it actually came to the shuttle.

Lightining strikes close to Discovery on the launchpad on Aug. 25, 2009. Credit: NASA/Ben Cooper.  Click image for access to larger version.
Lightining strikes close to Discovery on the launchpad on Aug. 25, 2009. Credit: NASA/Ben Cooper. Click image for access to larger version.

Discovery’s 13-day mission will deliver more than 7 tons of supplies, science racks and equipment, as well as additional environmental hardware to sustain six crew members on the International Space Station. The equipment includes a freezer to store research samples, a new sleeping compartment and the COLBERT treadmill. The mission is the 128th in the Space Shuttle Program, the 37th flight of Discovery and the 30th station assembly flight.

Hat Tip to absolutespacegrl on Twitter!

South Korea Launch No Go, Shuttle Launch a Go

The launch of South Korea’s first domestic rocket launch was aborted on Wednesday just minutes before scheduled liftoff because of a technical problem, delaying South Korea’s mini space race with North Korea. The two-stage rocket, called the Naro will be South Korea’s first launch from its own territory. Officials expect another liftoff will be attempted in a few days. Another launch attempt on July 30 was also aborted. The satellite was domestically built, with help from Russia and will observe the atmosphere and ocean. The launch attempt came about four months after North Korea was widely criticized for firing its own rocket in defiance of United Nations sanctions.

Meanwhile, NASA officials have cleared space shuttle Discovery to launch on August 25 for the STS-128 mission to the International Space Station. As of now, weather is the only issue that might delay the mission.

STS-128 Banner. Credit: NASA
Discovery will carry the Leonardo supply module to the International Space Station during STS-128, along with a new crew member for the station, Nicole Stott.

Launch is set for 1:36 am EDT (yes, that’s EXTREME am!) on the 25th. The good news about that hour is that launch should come well before any typical afternoon storms can brew up in the Florida skies. But then, it is hurricane season, and NASA is keeping an eye on a few tropical storms on the horizon.

Commanded by veteran astronaut Rick “C.J.” Sturckow, the STS-128 mission crew will deliver refrigerator-sized racks full of equipment, including the COLBERT treadmill, an exercise device named after comedian Stephen Colbert.

Stott will take the place of Tim Kopra, who moved into the station during STS-127. Pilot Kevin Ford and Mission Specialists Patrick Forrester, Jose Hernandez, John “Danny” Olivas and Sweden’s Christer Fuglesang round out the crew.

Sources: Discovery News, NASA

There Was a Reason Discovery’s Rollout Took Longer Than Usual…

Yikes! No wonder the rollout of space shuttle Discovery took a little bit longer than usual. Lightning lit up the sky above Kennedy Space Center early Tuesday morning, providing a stunning backdrop for the shuttle’s crawl to the launchpad. Usually the trip takes about six hours, but various weather-related concerns slowed the move out past 11 hours. Lightning delayed Discovery’s exit from the Vehicle Assembly Building for about 2 hours, and then mud from recent thunderstorms forced the crawler to stop repeatedly so engineers could clean out the giant treads on the huge 5.5 million-pound (2.4 million-kg) vehicle that hauls shuttles out to the launch pad. Discovery is scheduled to launch on August 25 for the STS-128 mission to the ISS. Of interest is that this mission will bring the C.O.L.B.E.R.T treadmill to the station, an exercise device named after comedian Stephen Colbert.

Discovery will carry the Leonardo supply module to the International Space Station during STS-128, along with several refrigerator-sized racks with equipment and supplies, and a new crew member for the station, Nicole Stott. The mission will be commanded by veteran astronaut Rick “C.J.” Sturckow, along with Pilot Kevin Ford and Mission Specialists Patrick Forrester, Jose Hernandez, John “Danny” Olivas and Sweden’s Christer Fuglesang.

Source: NASA

Endeavour Lands Safely (Video)

Space shuttle Endeavour and its crew of seven astronauts ended their 16-day mission by landing safely at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. If you missed seeing it live, watch the picture-perfect landing here. Good weather allowed the crew to come home on the first landing opportunity, after their orbital journey of more than 6.5 million miles. Endeavour touched down at 10:48 a.m. EDT, the 71st shuttle landing at KSC. It was the 23rd flight for Endeavour, the 127th space shuttle mission and 29th shuttle flight to the International Space Station.
Continue reading “Endeavour Lands Safely (Video)”

Triple Spaceship Sighting Alert!

A great opportunity tonight (July 28) to see three spaceships cross the sky at once! Endeavour just undocked from the ISS today, so they will be close to each other, plus there’s another spaceship lurking nearby: a Progress re-supply ship ready to dock with the ISS. How can you find out when and where to look for the three spacecraft? There are a couple of different websites that provide real-time tracking data and information about the ISS sighting opportunities. See below for more info.

The image above is a screenshot from NASA TV of the ISS as Endeavour undocked. Notice the shadow of the shuttle on the ISS solar arrays!

NASA has a Quick and Easy Sightings by City site, where you just search for your country and city which provides local times and the location in the sky where the station will be visible.

The European Space Agency also provides their ISS: Where Is It Now site that also allows you to select your country and city to find the station’s location.

The Heaven’s Above website (which also powers ESA’s site) is also an excellent site to find out when the ISS, as well as all sorts of other satellites and other heavenly sights will be visible. At Heaven’s Above, you can plug in your exact latitude and longitude, so if you live in a remote area, you’ll be able to have exact times and locations to look for satellites instead of relying on information for the nearest city.

There’s also this very cool Google Satellite tracker.

Additionally, you can get a notification on Twitter when the space station will be zooming over your skies. Follow Twisst. (Thanks to big ian for the reminder of this new Twitter addition!)

Here’s wishing everyone clear skies and great views!

STS-127: A Mission in Pictures

As space shuttle Endeavour undocks from the International Space Station today (Tuesday), now is a good time to look back at the very successful STS-127 mission. Here’s some great images which tell the story of the mission. Above, astronaut Tim Kopra is pictured in the forward port side area of Endeavour’s cargo bay during the first of five planned spacewalks performed by the STS-127 crew. Kopra is now part of the ISS crew, and is staying onboard the space station to serve as flight engineer.

Moon rock on board the ISS. Credit: NASA
Moon rock on board the ISS. Credit: NASA

Of course, during this mission we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. Fittingly, there was a Moon rock on board the ISS. The 3.6 billion year-old lunar sample was flown to the station aboard Space Shuttle mission STS-119 in April 2009. NASA says the rock, lunar sample 10072 serves as a symbol of the nation’s resolve to continue the exploration of space. It will be returned on shuttle mission STS-128 to be publicly displayed.
The new Kibo platform, or "front porch." Credit: NASA
Here’s a view of the newly installed “front porch” of the Kibo lab, which is actually the Japanese Experiment Module – Exposed Facility (JEF). This platform will hold experiments designed to work outside the protective confines of the station, exposing them to the space environment. The JEF was installed by the astronauts during this mission.
Dave Wolf during an EVA. Credit: NASA
Dave Wolf during an EVA. Credit: NASA

During the second STS-127 spacewalk, astronaut Dave Wolf worked outside bringing the Linear Drive Unit (LDU) and two other parts to the station’s External Stowage Platform 3 for long-term storage. Wolf is near the end of Canadarm2, which is anchored on the ISS.
Arms in space. Credit: NASA
Arms in space. Credit: NASA

Speaking of the robotic arms, here’s a view of both the space station and space shuttle robotic arms as seen from inside the Kibo laboratory. A portion of the Japanese Experiment Module – Exposed Facility is also visible. The blackness of space and Earth’s horizon provide the backdrop for the scene.
Tom Marshburn during an EVA. Credit: NASA
Tom Marshburn during an EVA. Credit: NASA

Astronaut Tom Marshburn makes his second spacewalk on July 24, along with Christopher Cassidy, out of frame. Eleven other astronauts and cosmonauts remained inside the International Space Station and the shuttle while the two astronauts worked outside.
Astronauts share a lunch on the ISS. Credit: NASA
Astronauts share a lunch on the ISS. Credit: NASA

In total, there were 13 astronauts on board the ISS, a record for the amount of astronauts in one vehicle. Pictured, clockwise from bottom right, are astronauts Christopher Cassidy and Mike Barratt, with Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, an unidentified crew member, Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata (floating above), Canadian Space Agency astronauts Robert Thirsk and Julie Payette, European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne, and astronaut Christopher Cassidy. Either out of frame or not clearly seen are astronauts Mark Polansky, Doug Hurley, Dave Wolf, Tim Kopra and Tom Marshburn, plus Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Gennady Padalka.
ISS as seen from departing space shuttle Endeavour. Credit: NASA TV
ISS as seen from departing space shuttle Endeavour. Credit: NASA TV

This screen shot shows the ISS as seen as Endeavour departed from the station on July 28. The views of both the ISS and shuttle were stunning. We’ll post the high-resolution versions when they become available. Notice the shadow of the space shuttle on the space station solar arrays! Amazing!
Endeavour's launch. Credit: NASA
Endeavour's launch. Credit: NASA

And now we’re back to the beginning of the mission. Liftoff for the STS-was at 6:03 p.m. (EDT) on July 15, 2009 from launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The storm clouds stayed far enough away so that Endeavour and her STS-127 crew finally on its sixth attempt. Watch a replay of the launch here.

Shuttle is Go For Launch, But is the Weather?

With the fuel leak apparently fixed, space shuttle Endeavour is ‘”go” for launch for the STS-127 mission. But the weather could force another delay. Forecasters predict a 60 percent chance thunderstorms on Saturday evening at Kennedy Space Center, and Endeavour’s launch is scheduled for 7:39:35 p.m. EDT. “Bottom line from the team, everybody’s go for launch, we have no major issues at all,” said Mike Moses, director of shuttle launch integration at the Kennedy Space Center. “We’re in really good shape for launch. We do have some challenges with the weather, but we’ll just work through those.”

Two previous launch attempts on June 13 and 17 were scrubbed when a hydrogen vent line attached to the side of the tank began leaking during fueling. NASA engineers replaced a one-piece Teflon seal with a different and more flexible two-piece seal, and in a fueling test on July 1, no leaks were detected.

The 16-day mission will feature five spacewalks and complete construction of the Japanese Kibo laboratory, adding a platform to the outside of the module that will allow experiments to be exposed to space.
Endeavour’s crew consists of commander Mark Polansky, pilot Douglas Hurley, Canadian flight engineer Julie Payette, David Wolf, Christopher Cassidy, Thomas Marshburn and space station flight engineer Timothy Kopra .

STS-122 Space Shuttle Mission Rockets to Space


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


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

STS-122 Shuttle Launch Decision on Tap


NASA engineers continue to repair a faulty electrical connector on Space Shuttle Atlantis’ external fuel tank which has delayed the launch of the STS-122 mission to the International Space Station. An update of the progress on that work will be presented at a mission management team meeting scheduled for Thursday, January 3 and mission managers will perhaps then be prepared to announce a proposed launch date for Atlantis.

The repairs could take several days or even weeks. At a press briefing last week, shuttle program manager Wayne Hale declined to offer a probable launch date. “We’re in the middle of troubleshooting and repair,” he said. “Until that gets a little bit further along, I actually have no valid dates to give you. To avoid what I think would be a totally misleading headline along the lines of ‘NASA Delays the Space Shuttle Again,’ we’re just not going to give you a launch date because that, in fact, would not be accurate.”

The engine cutoff (ECO) fuel sensor system transmitted false readings during two launch countdowns for Atlantis earlier in December. A fueling test performed on December 18 isolated the problem to a 1 ½ -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.

Engineers have removed the connector and are bench-testing the components in similar cryogenic conditions to try to duplicate the failure. Meanwhile, new hardware is being installed on the tank as the shuttle sits on launchpad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center.

“We have allowed the team that did the troubleshooting to very thoroughly go through all the data,” said Hale. “They have told us they are sure the problems that we’re seeing reside in that series of connectors. Where exactly in that series of connectors is a little bit open to interpretation.”

The connectors on the inside of the tank are being visually inspected. “It is a possibility that the internal connector is involved,” Hale said. “However, all the physics based discussion of the kinds of things that can happen point to something happening on the external connector.”

Problems with the internal connector would involve “more invasive” work, Hale said, that could possibly damage the tank.

A similar repair was done to the Atlas rockets several years ago to fix problems with circuitry in the Centaur stage. ECO sensors protect the shuttle’s main engines by triggering engine shut down if fuel runs unexpectedly low. The Space shuttle main engines running without fuel would likely result in an explosion.

The STS-112 mission will deliver the European Space Agency’s Columbus science module to the station along with a new crew member Leopold Eyharts from France who will take over for Dan Tani. Tani, whose mother was killed in a car accident on December 19, will return to Earth on Atlantis.

“These repairs and troubleshooting activities will determine when we will launch” said Hale. “The plan to go forward will take as long as it takes, but we don’t think this will be a long-term thing. Probably something that will take a couple of weeks.”