Will Discovery Be ‘Go for Launch’ or Forced to Roll Back?

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Over the weekend, NASA engineers will conduct additional tests to determine if Discovery can launch “as is” or have to be rolled back for repairs — which would mean a three-month delay for the STS-131 mission. Helium regulator assemblies downstream from a failed isolation valve in the shuttle’s right rear maneuvering engine pod must work perfectly to provide a system redundancy that would justify proceeding with the flight. If they don’t, then the regulator assemblies and the valve would need to be repaired or replaced, and neither can be done at the launchpad – meaning Discovery would have to be rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building, de-mated from the SRBs and external tank, and sent to the Orbiter Processing Facility for repairs. But if the regulators check out, and no other problems arise, mission managers could give the ‘go’ to launch Discovery as is on April 5, 2010.

Today on the launchpad, said NASA Payload Manager Joe Delai was optimistic about the tests. “It’s looking good,” he said. “They will do a test on Saturday to make sure the two valves farther down the line work, and if that looks good, we’ll put the payload on board.”

Close-up of Discovery. Image Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today

Engineers will evaluate the data and discuss options at a readiness review Tuesday morning.

Nancy on the launchpad. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.

In anticipation of a good report on the regulator tests, the canister carrying the payload for Discovery’s STS-131 mission to the International Space Station was brought to Launch Pad 39A early on March 19. Later, reporters were allowed an unusual visit right on the pad and close to Discovery to see the work in progress and talk with Delai and Boeing payload flow manager, Mike Kinslow.

Enjoy these great close-up images by Universe Today photographer Alan Walters of Discovery on the on launchpad, with the Rotating Service Structure rolled back, allowing a view of the payload canister.

Discovery ready to receive the payload for the STS-131 mission. Image Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.

Discovery on the pad. Note the bird soaring overhead. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.
On Feb. 18, 2010, workers in the Space Station Processing Facility at KSC finished packing the Leonardo module for the STS-131 mission. Credit: Nancy Atkinson

STS-131 will be a three-spacewalk space station assembly and resupply mission. The Leonard Multi-purpose Logistics Module that will be installed in Discovery’s payload bay will bring up 5,000 kg (11,000 lbs) of food, water, clothes, parts, science experiments, supply units for the oxygen generation system, and five science utilization racks.

New crew quarters for the ISS.

Other very interesting additions to the ISS on this flight include: , the fourth crew sleep station (CQ4)– which is a phone booth-like small crew quarters, the MARES (Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System) – which Delai compared to a Bowflex for the ISS crew, a new Minus Eighty-degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI) which will be used to support science experiments, and a “dark room” for photography called WORF – Window Observational Research Facility, allowing for better images to be taken from the observation window in the US lab Destiny.

Gallery: Midnight Shuttle Rollout

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It was a dark and windy night. But then the Xenon spotlights hit space shuttle Discovery as it inched out of the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, lighting up the darkness. The lights didn’t help the wind any, but the gleaming shuttle stack on top of the crawler/transporter was a beautiful sight to behold. I was told that first motion of the shuttle out of the VAB hasn’t been open to the press for many years, (since the return to flight mission in 1988) and so I felt privileged to witness the event. Especially stunning was a unique silhouette shadow of the shuttle stack that formed against the clouds as the spotlights glared (see below). Photographer Alan Walters and I both snapped some shots, and I’ve now updated this post to include daylight photos of Discovery at the pad.

The shuttle stack was silhouetted in shadow against the clouds. Image: Nancy Atkinson

I’m feeling pretty smug about this shot! I talked to some other photographers who weren’t able to capture the shadow effect in the clouds. For once, my dinky little camera out-performs the big guys! But the shadow/silhouette was a very cool thing to see, indeed. One of the people at the press site, a veteran of over 60 rollouts, said he had never seen anything like that before!

Discovery just emerging from the VAB. Image: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.
Xenon lights bathe the shuttle stack. Image: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today

Proof that Nancy was there! Image credit: Larry from NASASpaceflight.com (thanks Larry!)

Close-up of the shuttle stack. Image: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.

Discovery heading out the launchpad 39A. Image: Nancy Atkinson

As I drove out of the KSC press site, Discovery rolling out to the pad was visible in my rear view mirror! No rest for the sleepy (it is 3 am local time as I post this) — will get about 2 hours sleep, then head back out to KSC to see Discovery at the pad in daylight.

UPDATE: Here are the daylight photos!

With the crawlerway in the foreground, Discovery sits on pad 39A early 3/3/2010. Image: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today
The view of Discovery on 39A from a different location. Image: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today
A view from the flame trench. Image: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today
The crawler sits just outside Pad 39A after depositing Discovery. Image: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today

About a half an hour later, we returned to the launchpad to do some interviews, and just as we finished the sun came out! So here is a “sunshine” photo of Discovery.

Sunshine! Image: Nancy Atkinson

Get Ready for the Next Shuttle Mission, STS-131

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The astronauts are getting ready; space shuttle Discovery is getting ready. Are you ready for this fourth-to-the-last flight? Preparations have begun in earnest for the next shuttle mission, STS-131. The astronauts arrived at Kennedy Space Center Monday evening and will be here for several days of the standard prelaunch training called the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test. They arrived at the Shuttle Landing Facility airstrip, and all expressed their excitement for the mission and their thanks to the people at KSC who prepare the shuttle for flight.

Astronauts arrive at KSC. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.

“We are really happy to be here at Kennedy Space Center,” said Alan Poindexter, Commander of STS-131. “It’s a beautiful day to be here and we’re really looking forward to our dress rehearsal for launch, and are looking forward to seeing Discovery rollout to the pad. We’ve been training really hard, and just got out of simulations (in Houston) this morning. We’re all working hard getting ready for this flight.”

Making her first flight, Educator-astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenberger, said “Thanks to those at KSC who do many hours of hard work to so we can fly. This is my first flight and I’ve always looked forward to this week.”

Astronaut Clay Anderson. Image credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today
Astronaut Clay Anderson. Image credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.

Clay Anderson, who spent 5 months on the ISS in 2007, will be staying for only the short duration of the mission this time. “I’m looking forward to going back home to the space station,” he said. I’ve had great time training with this crew.”

Discovery is scheduled to begin rollout from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Pad 39A, with first motion is targeted for 12:01 a.m. EST Wednesday. Live coverage of the move will be shown on NASA TV beginning at 6:30 a.m EST (1130 GMT) .

Discovery will carry a multi-purpose logistics module filled with science racks for the laboratories aboard the station. The mission has three planned spacewalks, with work to include replacing an ammonia tank assembly, retrieving a Japanese experiment from the station’s exterior, and switching out a rate gyro assembly on the S0 segment of the station’s truss structure.

STS-131 will be the 33rd shuttle mission to the station. Launch is currently set for April 5, 2010. Only four more shuttle missions are currently on the manifest.

Thanks to Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for the great images of today’s crew arrival.

STS-131 crew gets ready to board a bus to head to crew quarters at KSC. Image credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today