ET return dates set – Atlantis De-Stack

by Chris Bergin

Shuttle Atlantis – now without a mission until the summer of 2006 – will be de-stacked in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on September 7.

This will occur around a time where the United Space Alliance (USA) will be returning all External Tanks to their place of construction at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) to have their PAL Ramps removed.

ET-119 – which was set to launch with Atlantis on her second mission since Return to Flight began, on STS-115 – will be shipped back on Tuesday of next week.

That will start the exodus of ETs from the Kennedy Space Center for work that will see the removal of the PAL Ramp – a section of foam that cause the main area of foam liberation concern for NASA managers during STS-114’s launch last month.

The tanks will then undergo a re-spray, although it is not clear if this involves changing the process in how the tanks are sprayed – given the other areas of concern with the ET and foam shedding.

Next in the schedule is the de-stack of Atlantis, currently in the VAB for what was expected to be a rollout for a September launch. Instead Atlantis will be removed from her SRBs and ET – with ET-120 then being shipped back to MAF on September 17.

ET-117 – which is still in the ‘old’ configuration – will be shipped out to Alabama sometime after the 17th. The problem with how many can be shipped back to MAF relates to storage problems at the facility.

“We have more ETs stored here than anytime in recent memory,” noted a source. “We (in the 1980s) were still making eight per year. Now it’s not as bad because we’re only building four per year.”

With the turnaround time, MAF will be aiming to support NASA’s new drive towards STS-121 in March, 2006.

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