NASA has announced that it is to move one of its Transatlantic Abort Sites to France – away from Morocco.
Ben Guerir will only return as an option should NASA decide to add a Hubble Servicing Mission to the remaining 28-Shuttle mission mandate.
France’s Istres Air Force Base – located north of Marseilles – will join Spain’s Moron and Zaragoza air bases as the Shuttle’s prime Transatlantic Abort (TAL) sites, begining with STS-114 in July. A new microwave landing system, special lighting and other equipment to support a shuttle landing at Istres have already being set up.
“Istres had all the correct technical capability to support a space shuttle landing,” said Johnson Space Center spokesman Rob Navias. “We like to keep three sites available because of weather issues.”
He added that the decision to drop Morocco came after the decision not to send a Shuttle up on a Hubble Servicing Mission – although the site may come back into the TAL roster should NASA Administrator Mike Griffin decide to re-install one more flight to replace batteries, install a new camera and swap out a failed positioning gyroscope on the aging space telescope. Security concerns have also been noted in regards to the Moroccan site.
To reach Hubble, whose orbit is inclined about 28.5 degrees relative to the equator, the Shuttle is launched due east. The Shuttle is, however, currently destined to travel to the International Space Station on all of its remaining launches, which is located at an inclination of 51.6 degrees. The launch trajectory for ISS missions takes the Shuttle up the US coast and over the North Atlantic, making it impossible to reach Morocco in an emergency.
“It’s not defunct. It could still be used,” added Navias on whether Morocco would come back into service as a TAL site – dependant on the Hubble Servicing Mission status.
A TAL abort would only come into affect as an option if the Shuttle had a serious fault on ascent – after the Return to Launch Site (RTLS) option had expired. After TAL, the Shuttle’s options are to Abort Once Around and (AOA)Abort To Orbit (ATO). NASA has never needed to call a TAL on any of the previous 113 Shuttle launches.
According to NASA spokeswoman Debra Rahn, Griffin met with the French ambassador on Tuesday to finalize the landing site agreement.