NASA still aiming for 19 flights

by Chris Bergin

A document acquired by this site has given revised details on the remaining flights of the Space Shuttle, with changes to the target launch dates and confirmation that Atlantis will be the first Orbiter to be retired in 2008.

Running through to 2009 – to give the STS (Space Transportation System) program a buffer zone to the targeted retirement in 2010 – the October 19th Flight Assignment Working Group (FAWG) Planning Manifest 05D-12 points to four flights in 2006.

Discovery’s Return to Flight 3 mission STS-121 has been forwarded to earlier in the re-start of Shuttle operations to May 3, 2006, with Atlantis on her STS-300 stand-by rescue mission – if required – for June 15. This mission is at the mercy of testing and re-engineering work on External Tanks ET-119 and ET-120 – both currently at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans.

Atlantis’ primary launch processing is for STS-115, which is now due to launch on July 1. Atlantis’ launch will see the re-start to ISS (International Space Station) assembly missions, adding the P3/P4 Truss to the outpost.

The youngest Orbiter in the fleet, Endeavour, joins the fleet in active flight operations on October 1 on STS-116, carrying SpaceHab and the P5 ISS element. This will be the first Shuttle mission to incorporate SSPTS (Station/Shuttle Power Transfer System) capability, allowing for flight duration to last 15 days.

A fourth mission is planned for 2006, with Atlantis once again in action on STS-117 with a target launch date of December 7. Atlantis will be carrying the S3/S4 ISS element.

On the manifest is six 2007 missions, starting with Endeavour on March 15 on STS-118, and ending with Atlantis on STS-124 on November 29. Atlantis’ 14th of June STS-120 will mark the completion of the US Core of the ISS.

2008 sees another six launches, starting and ending with Endeavour’s STS-125 on February 7 – ending with her STS-130 mission on December 4. This year will also mark the retirement of Atlantis. OV-104 would have been due for her Orbiter Major Maintenance (OMM) period in 2008, thus deciding her own retirement automatically, given the two years it takes to re-fit the Orbiters – a pointless exercise given the 2010 retirement target.

Three missions follow STS-130, with Discovery launching on STS-131 (March 19), Endeavour on STS-132 (May 14), and the final ever Space Shuttle mission coming with Discovery’s STS-133 on August 20, 2009.

However, it needs to be stressed that all dates are flexible and open to changes, with the 2009 end date on the manifest more likely to give some breathing space should any delays during previous missions begin to accumulate over the years post STS-121.

Also worth noting is the current funding questions that have been raised of late.

NASA appears to have several options open to themselves, with a possibility of only flying missions that complete the US Core section of the ISS. That would bring the manifest down to eight flights, likely over the same time period to relax funding concerns.

What is expected to remain – although not listed on the manifest with a specific mission – is the Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission. That will not be part of the ISS assembly missions, given the different orbits of the ISS and Hubble. Sources note that mission will involve Endeavour, sometime in 2007/08.

Below is the list of launches noted on the latest manifest.

STS-121 – Discovery – May 3
[STS-300 – Atlantis – June 15]
STS-115 – Atlantis – July 1
STS-116 – Endeavour – October 1
STS-117 – Atlantis – December 7

STS-118 – Endeavour – March 15
STS-119 – Discovery – May 3
STS-120 – Atlantis – June 14
STS-122 – Endeavour – August 23
STS-123 – Discovery – October 11
STS-124 – Atlantis – November 29

STS-125 – Endeavour – February 7
STS-126 – Discovery – April 3
STS-127 – Atlantis – May 22
STS-128 – Endeavour – July 3
STS-129 – Discovery – October 2
STS-130 – Endeavour – December 4

STS-131 – Discovery – March 19
STS-132 – Endeavour – May 14
STS-133 – Discovery – August 20

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