Discovery back on pad – launch is ’50/50′

by Chris Bergin

Shuttle Discovery finally returned to the launch pad yesterday, but whether she’ll launch in July is still in the balance.

Growing concerns over Ice Debris led to two sources – one with NASA and the other with the United Space Alliance – both claiming the July window is ’50/50′ – with NASA head Mike Griffin set to decide on June 30 if the launch is to be delayed until at least September.

It was the second time that Discovery had been rolled from the VAB to the Pad – the first time becoming only a short stay due to ECO sensor issues and the requirement to swap to a new External Tank that had been designated for Shuttle Atlantis.
ET-121 has new heater modifications on the feedline bellows – so as to reduce the risk of ice forming, ice that could break away and damage Discovery on assent. However, a new concern may yet be a show-stopper for NASA’s return to Flight – that of ice, slush and frost build up on the LOX Feedline Brackets.
Since the story broke at the start of the week, NASA engineers have been working to a timetable to aim to resolve the issue to the point of certification in time for the July launch window.
The schedule is as follows:
Certification plan was on the timeline as the 13th of June. Baseline Schedule 14th.  ICB 15th. PRCB Info Presentation Requirements for BIN 16th – with no word on if these have been met on time.

Key dates on the timetable are: 90% FEC Engineering Review by the 21st of July. Delta DVR Review Presentation on the 24th and Stafford-Covey’s final Return to Flight Task Group public meeting – announced today as to be held on the 27th of July.
The FRR (Flight Readiness Review is on the 29th, but Griffin takes the decision if to proceed on not with the July launch window on the 30th of July.
All eyes are currently on Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) where the current testing in their Hot Gas Facility is on-going. MSFC were only recently pushing for a third tanking test (the first to be performed with ET-121) – before United Space Alliance and Johnson Space Center officials managed to snuff out their request due to MSFC being unable to give full clarification on the requirement.
“We do know that Marshall SFC does have a habit of being ‘over-cautious’, as keeping their fingers in the proverbial pie justifies their existence,” said one USA source – pointing to differing mentalities on the current status of Return to Flight.
A further update on how testing is proceeding on the LOX Feedline Bracket modifications is expected in the next few days.

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