Shuttle launch mandate to be reduced

by Chris Bergin

NASA administrator Mike Griffin is to reduce the Space Shuttle’s launch mandate from 28 missions to 23 – possibly as low as 15.

Delays to returning to the Shuttle to flight and evaluations on processing times in-between launches has prompted Griffin to reduce the launch mandate.

During Return to Flight briefings, NASA had noted that the three remaining Shuttles would be tasked with a 28 launch mandate, completing the construction of the International Space Station (ISS) – with one launch possibly used to service the Hubble Space Telescope one last time.

However, that has dramatically changed – and appears to be set, given the language used by the new NASA head.

“I’ll be very strong on this,” said Griffin during an interview at the Paris Air Show. “We know that we cannot execute 28 flights between now and shuttle retirement.”

NASA has already started to look at alternative ways of sending up parts of the ISS to reduce the burden on the Shuttle. It would appear that only the large module-based cargo would be carried by the Shuttle – with alternatives taking up other sections.

Still, a large amount of replanning will have to be undertaken, given contractors have designed most of the ISS sections with the Shuttle’s cargo bay in mind.

This leaves a number of issues to be ironed out with ISS partners.

“No decision will be made until we’ve had a chance to discuss options with them,” he noted, before adding: “I can’t discuss options with them before those options have been aired with my boss. And they understand that. They have the same constraints as me.”

The Shuttle is set to retire in 2010.

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