NASA are still confident that they will be launching Shuttle Discovery on STS-114 – the long-awaited Return to Flight mission – in the second half of July.
A window of July 13 to 31 is the target for bringing the fleet back to full operations for a 28-mission mandate to complete the construction of the International Space Station before the three Orbiters are retired from service.
The confidence of making the July window comes at an ironic time – a time where Discovery will be rolled-back from Launch Pad 39B and de-stacked from ET-120 and its two Solid Rocket Boosters. A rare event in itself but also – possibly for the first time ever – Discovery will be re-stacked with ET-121, the stack that was to be for Atlantis.
As far as the flow is concerned, the July window is within reach. A delay to around July 19 – for the start of the window – would be implemented if a third Tanking Test is required. Otherwise, current modifications to the External Tank – namely heaters being placed on the ET’s propellant line – are already placed into the flow.
“The only thing that would change that is if we determine that we want to do some other testing,” said Shuttle manager Bill Parsons.
While the Stafford-Covey Return to Flight task group still have to meet – and reveal their findings on June 6 – on conclusion of the receipt of documentation from NASA managers on how they’ve implemented the recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board – NASA administrator Mike Griffin has intimated that the group’s findings won’t be the final say on whether NASA will launch. That decision will stay with NASA – he recently noted.
Discovery will roll-back to the Vehicle Assembly Building on Thursday – a slight delay due to United Space Alliance workers checking the landing gear doors – following the discovery of hairline cracks on sistership Atlantis. However, Discovery has not suffered the same problem – and neither has the youngest Orbiter, Endeavour.
Should the largest area of concern – debris strikes – prove to pass the concerns of the Debris Verification Board – Discovery is set to launch in the July window timeframe, a confidence that was repeated by Launch Director Mike Leinbach.
“We roll back out to the pad in mid-June,” he said,”and that sets us up fine for the beginning of the launch window.”