Shuttle Launch Delayed at Least One Day

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Second Update (10/30): Launch of space shuttle Discovery is now targeted for Wednesday, Nov. 3 at 3:52p EDT. Technicians are still working to make repairs on the OMS engine.

The launch of space shuttle Discovery for the STS-133 mission has been pushed back at least one day due to the discovery of leaks in the right hand Orbital Maneuvering System Pod. Therefore, the launch will occur no sooner than Tuesday, Nov. 2 (and that has now been pushed to Nov. 3) . Managers, engineers and technicians are evaluating helium and nitrogen leaks in the pressurization portion of the OMS pod. The leaks must be fixed before launch and the decision was made to delay at least a day. Countdown had been scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. EDT today (Friday) but could begin on Saturday at 2 p.m. if the leak situation is resolved soon. The launch window on Tuesday, November 2 would open at 4:17 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 3 at 3:52p EDT. NASA will be holding a press conference at 10 am EDT (watch on NASA TV), and we’ll provide an update after the conference. (See update below)

These leaking helium and nitrogen seals are unrelated to the fuel leak that was repaired last week, also related to Discovery’s right OMS pod.

In other shuttle news, there are some political rumblings that the additional shuttle mission — among other things — that was part of the newly signed outline for NASA’s budget could be under threat of being cut. Some politicians are looking at cutting NASA’s budget in order to save money, and the $300 million uptick for NASA is one target. For more information, check out this article in the Orlando Sentinel.

UPDATE: During the press conference Friday morning, launch test director Jeff Spaulding said this type of repair has been done several times previously on the launch pad, so they are not very worried about this causing a big delay. They do have to re-pressurize the various tanks, which require a pad clear (getting all personnel away from the launch pad), so that causes some delay in that they can’t proceed with the normal countdown activities.

As of right now, they are assuming they can launch on Tuesday because it is a rather routine repair. The teams did work overnight on removing the seals where the leak was found. “The standard process is to remove and inspect both sides of the connector to look at the problem of what caused the leak,” Spaulding said. “Sometimes the seals reseat themselves just by taking them apart and putting it back together, but the team did see contamination — a seal was in the wrong place. They did get it to lock up when they reconnected it, but they weren’t really comfortable with it knowing there was possibly some contamination.”
So today, the teams will likely replace the connectors.

STS-133 is an 11 day mission to the ISS, which is bringing up supplies, and the new permanent logistics module (basically a store room) and the humanoid robot Robonaut 2. (R2).

NASA is expect a huge crowd for the launch, as this is Discovery’s final mission. There’s also an air show in the area this weekend, so many people are planning to attend both the show and the launch. But that is not a factor in making the decision to launch, Spaulding said. “We are happy to have the teams that handle these kinds of repairs, and we will fly this vehicle only when it is ready to go.”

Another item of note is that Nov. 2 is Election Day here in the US, so NASA has encouraged their employees to do early voting in case the launch is on Tuesday and employees would then likely not have the time to vote.

As far as weather, Weather Director Kathy Winters said on Tussday there is a small concern about some rain coming into the area, and right now there would be a 30% chance of weather prohibiting launch on Tuesday.

Soyuz Launches; Discovery’s Final Payload Delivered to Launch Pad

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October 7 was a busy day in spaceflight, as a Soyuz launched 2 cosmonauts and 1 astronaut to the International Space Station, and for the last time the payload canister for the space shuttle Discovery made its way to Launch Complex 39A (LC39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Crews are now preparing to install the payload into Discovery’s cargo bay on Monday morning, which includes the first humanoid robot to fly into space Robonaut-2 or “R2.”

See below for a video of the Soyuz launch.

Alexander Kaleri, Oleg Skripochka and Scott Kelly are now on their way to join three other crew members aboard the ISS station after a two-day trip on the Soyuz.

For the final flight of Discovery, STS-133, the another payload is the reconfigured Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) now dubbed the Permanent Multipurpose Module. The mission will also carry the Express Logistics Carrier 4 and much-needed spare parts to the International Space Station (ISS).

The mission is slated to launch no-earlier-than Nov.1 at 4:40 p.m. EDT.

A large white canister is hoisted up and the payload that is sealed inside will be removed. From there the canister is taken away, the Rotating Service Structure (RSS) will swing over the space shuttle and then be loaded into the shuttle’s cargo bay. The entire process takes a little over a week.

STS-133 will mark the final flight of the space shuttle Discovery. Photo Credit: Universe Today/Alan Walters

The crew for STS-133 consists of Commander Steve Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Nicole Stott, Alvin Drew, Tim Kopra and Michael Barratt.

The crew of STS-133. from left to right, Alvin Drew, Nicole Stott, Eric Boe, Steve Lindsey, Micheal barratt and Tim Kopra. Image Credit: NASA

The canisters that deliver the payload out to the launch pad have been used since the shuttle program’s inception. However, that does not mean that they are destined to go to the Smithsonian or some other world-famous museum. In fact there is no real clear destination for any of these pieces of hardware. As NASA no longer has a clear path forward it is not known whether-or-not the canisters will be used in some future, as-yet-unnamed program.

“They’re pretty old critters, they’ve been with us since the beginning of the shuttle program,” said Scott Higginbotham NASA’s mission manager in charge of payloads. “They’ve delivered all the payloads either to the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) for horizontal installation or out here to the pad for vertical installation.”

The payload canister is loaded onto the RSS in preparation for loading into Space Shuttle Discovery for STS-133. Image is an HDR composite from five images. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.

Help NASA Choose Wakeup Music for Final Shuttle Missions

It’s the one kind of cheesy thing we all listen for each day of a shuttle mission: the wake up song. With only a few space shuttle missions left on the manifest, NASA has decided to enlist the help of the public to help choose the songs that will wake up the astronauts for STS-133 – currently scheduled for a November 1, 2010 launch — and STS-134, slated to launch on February 26, 2011. Not only can you choose from previously played popular songs, but those of you musically inclined can write a song and submit it.

See the NASA website for more details.

The deadline is January 10, 2011.


New Dates for Final Shuttle Launches

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If you are tentatively planning to attend one of the final shuttle launches, the uncertainty on launch dates just got a bit more certain; plus — an added benefit — we won’t see the end of the shuttle program until 2011.

NASA announced new target dates for the final two (and maybe three) shuttle missions. STS-133 is now aiming for November 1, 2010 at approximately 4:33 p.m. EDT for the final flight of shuttle Discovery, and for STS-134, February 26, 2011 at around 4:19 p.m. EST for shuttle Endeavour’s last launch. The potential bonus mission STS-135, would launch sometime in August 2011, if approved by Congress and NASA. The latest word on that was that NASA officials hope the decision would be made sometime this month.


The target dates were changed because the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer instrument, heading for installation on the International Space Station won’t be ready by the time of the previously planned Sept. 16 launch for STS-133. With that launch moving to November, STS-134 cannot fly as planned, so the next available launch window — taking into account sun angles and other planned launches –is in February 2011.

These dates were rumored last week, but this is now the official word. However, of course, all target launch dates are subject to change.

The last external tanks for the STS-134 mission was recently completed at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. There will be a final farewell ceremony at 9 a.m. CDT on Thursday, July 8, which will be shown on NASA TV. The event will commemorate 37 years of successful tank deliveries and the final external tank’s rollout for the last space shuttle flight. Coverage begins at 8:45 a.m.

The tank, designated ET-138, will travel on a wheeled transporter one mile to the Michoud barge dock. It will be accompanied by the Storyville Stompers, a traditional area brass band, and hundreds of handkerchief-waving employees in typical New Orleans fashion and spirit.

The tank will travel on a 900-mile sea journey to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it will support shuttle Endeavour’s STS-134 launch. No word yet on how the oil spill may affect the journey.

Another tank that was damaged in Hurricane Katrina is being refurbished for the Launch-On-Need (LON) rescue mission STS-335, which if not needed and if it gets approval to fly as the actual final shuttle mission, (Atlantis) would change to STS-135.

Ken Kremer (who has written for Universe Today) has an article on SpaceRef about his tour of the Michoud Facility, which includes some great images.