Extension decision no closer after “one heck of a year” for shuttle

The Space Shuttle Program (SSP) will have “no idea” where it stands from a budget standpoint until February, as the viability of extending the shuttle manifest continues to be eroded by the lack of a clear direction at the political level. The irony of running head first into shuttle retirement comes as the Space Shuttle Program (SSP) completes one of its most successful years on record – “one heck of a year” as per manager John Shannon.

Shuttle Lifeline Status:

While extending shuttle was deemed as viable – per the recent Augustine Commission review into Human Space Flight – from a multi-option standpoint that associated such a move with the development of a Shuttle Derived Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (SD HLLV) as the follow-on vehicle, the need to make a decision to support extension is at the mercy of NASA’s budget.

President Obama is soon to outline his preference for NASA’s future, centralized around the findings of the Augustine Commission, although any action won’t be forthcoming until the standard government approach of approving future funding for the Agency at the political level.

This leaves a gap, between focusing on the preferred option outlined by the Augustine panel, and funding to carry that option out.

“Still waiting on word on the passback and the budget; there is no guidance right now. There will be no idea where SSP will be from a budget-standpoint until the February timeframe,” noted SSP manager John Shannon, whilst addressing his workforce via the Shuttle Standup/Integration report (L2). “It will be worked out between the HQ folks, OMB (Office of Management and Budget), and OSTP (Office of Science and Technology Policy).”

A deadline for a decision to extend the shuttle program doesn’t really exist, though the longer it takes for a decision to be made, the more expensive an extension would be, along with the growing threat of a gap within the extension itself – especially in the scenario of adding numerous flights for a 2015 extension to the manifest.

A41An extension that adds two to three flights in 2011/early 2012 is deemed the most viable scenario, avoding the unknown quanity of recertification, age-life hardware issues, and would utilize External Tank ET-122 for STS-135 – as opposed to its current role as STS-335 (Launch On Need) for STS-133, currently the final flight of the manifest.

STS-136 and STS-137 would require two part built tanks to be completed (now classed as ET-139 and ET-140), both of which – sources say – would be ready within nine months of the decision being made. LON for STS-137 could potentially be carried out via a Soyuz ferry plan.

Additional “brand new, from scratch” tanks have a lead time of two to three years, which means the 2015 extension scenario is already becoming unviable – regardless of the issues of workforce reduction and other hardware assets that would need to produce additional items – such as boosters etc.

The shuttle has its detractors, even within NASA, citing safety and cost. However, the five flights of 2009 have showed the world just how capable the vehicle is, when cared for by good management and experienced engineering.

“This has been a heck of a year. We have a chance to catch a bit of a breather. The team did an amazing job, and set us up for 2010 extremely well. Here is exactly where we want to be to enter 2010 in great shape,” added Mr Shannon, via the Standup report.

“The decisions (Mission Management Team (MMT) chair) Mike (Moses) made at the Noon Board to get the vehicle configured within the VAB (Endeavour, STS-130 flow), and give the team a little bit of a break over the holidays was important to us. We should all take a lesson there, try and get a little bit of a break here. It has been a heck of a year.”

2010 will be the final year of the shuttle unless a decision to extend is made, and made soon. Currently, the only ‘expected’ hope relates to funding that will allow SSP a full 2010 to complete the final five flights on the manifest.

“Next year will be just as busy,” added Mr Shannon. “We are going to face problems next year, and we need to be ready to go. Take a lot of pride in what you have done over this last year. Let us take a little bit of a break and come back at the start of next year and really finish 2010 the right way.”

Reference: Previous *main* Shuttle Extension articles by NASASpaceflight.com:
http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2009/09/ssp-fight-back-asap-augustine-claim-risk/
http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2009/07/major-shuttle-and-iss-extension-drive-augustine-commission/
http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2009/05/nasa-present-two-shuttle-extension-options-to-lawmakers/
http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2009/03/aresorion-slipping-18-months-shuttle-extension-upper-hand/
http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2009/02/extra-nasa-funds-initial-step-towards-gap-reduction/
http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2008/09/senate-pass-nasa-bill-for-extra-funding/
http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2008/10/shuttle-extension-white-paper/
http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2008/09/nasas-dream-scenario-of-a-13-flight-extension-for-shuttle/

STS-129 Post Flight:

Atlantis’ flawless performance on STS-129 rounded off a great year for the vehicle and SSP, as she adds the final Hubble Servicing Mission (STS-125) and a vital logistics run to the International Space Station (ISS) under her belt. She has now begun turnaround processing for what is currently her final mission – STS-132.

“Let me thank the team. This is the broader team of the ops people, the engineering teams, everybody across the country that worked so hard over the last two weeks on STS-129,” added Mr Shannon. “At this point in the Space Program when there is so much uncertainty, it is so important for us to execute as well as we did the last two weeks.

“I know folks gave up Thanksgiving, and I really appreciate it. It was just an outstanding mission; right off on time, got lucky with the weather. The vehicle could not have performed any better, no issues at all. Landed right on time, beautiful weather. This is the way that mission ought to go.

“The ISS team is extremely happy. This was a huge mission for those people. Taking up two gigantic pallets of spare hardware that will keep them in business for the next decade was super important.”

Turning Atlantis towards her STS-132 flow began on Monday, following her tow off the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF), and return to the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF-1).

STS-129 Specific Articles: http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/tag/sts-129/

“The post landing and OPF1 Tow-In operations occurred nominally. Atlantis was spotted in OPF-1 at 1650L. T-0 mates occurred 1914L and Fuel Cells were powered down at 2355L. On Saturday the Cryos were drained and PRSD system secured,” noted NASA Test Director processing information (L2). “On Monday morning the orbiter began OPF turnaround with V1103 Power Up.

“Post flight inspections continue. Orbiter manual power up and power system validation were successfully completed. Payload bay door opening and latch verification were completed. KU band functional and OMS/RCS static air checks were completed. Nose Landing Gear Strut thruster electrical disconnects being worked.

A66Engineers also started work on the small issues noted during the countdown – relating to the noise on Fuel Cell 2′s H2 pump, and on orbit – relating to the Waste Tank plumbing that was blocked during a dump near the end of the mission.

“Orbiter: On OV-104 (Atlantis), were able to do some troubleshooting on that fuel cell noisy motor signature seen prelaunch,” noted the Orbiter Project Office (OPO) on the Standup report. “Were able to reproduce a very similar signature, but not in the believed prelaunch configuration.”

“IPR (Interim Problem Report) 0001 Update: Ran troubleshooting on the noisy FC2 H2 Pump Motor Noise,” added the NTD report. “The circuit dimmers were operated per plan and some line noise was able to be created using different lighting configurations of the Numeric OS lighting of the Aft Station. Further evaluation will be required.

“New IPR 0003: Documenting a reduced drain rate of the Waste Tank. Engineering will perform some additional data review prior to troubleshooting for a suspect blockage within the urine filter (MER (Mission Evaluation Room issue)-10).

A213As if not to feel left out, Atlantis appears to have suffered from the nozzle leaks on her Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs), though less than that observed on her sisters, Discovery and Endeavour, after their STS-127 and STS-128 missions.

While a new corrosion inhibitor is set to debut on STS-130, flight rationale was built around additional mitigation procedures for STS-129′s engines - which includes the cycling of reconditioned air into the nozzles during Atlantis’ pad flow. This appears to have reduced the amount of tiny pinpoint holes in the nozzle – which are of no concern for their performance during ascent.

“On Sunday, were able to do a preliminary nozzle tube leak check on Engines 1 and 2. Engine 1 had ~12 leaks. Engine 2 had ~180+ leaks, which is what was seen on the prior two flights for the worse case leak assessment,” added the SSME section of the Standup report.

“On Engine 3, the preliminary leak check assessment was not done because it was never exposed to the chlorides from the sponge (Nozzle 5011). Will need to look at nozzle allocations and see what can be done to best allocate these nozzles.

“This was the flight for which the drying purge was kept on the nozzles at the pad, so kept a dry environment on them all the way up to launch.”

With the removal of the use of sponges for the application of the corrosion inhibitor for the remainder of the shuttle program, engineers will have eliminated source of high chlorides on the nozzles by the time Endeavour flies in February.

L2 members: Documentation – from which the above article has quoted snippets – is available in full in the related L2 sections, now over 4000 gbs in size.

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