Members of the Space Shuttle community are meeting today at the Kennedy Space Centre (KSC) for a summit to discuss and update their relevant status, as they prepare for the fleet to return to flight next year.
NASA is hoping to launch all three of their orbiters in 2006, although a smooth return to regular Shuttle missions will depend on several key elements coming together in the run up to STS-121.
Today’s summit will discuss the status of all three of NASA’s orbiters, as well as key elements of the STS (Space Transportation System), such as the External Tanks (ET), which are undergoing modifications on their PAL (Protuberance Air Load) ramps and bipod fitting foam closeout.
Currently, ET-119 is having its PAL ramp removed and modified, ahead of an estimated February shipping back to KSC. ET-120 has undergone backscatter and x-ray testing, with data analysis on identified cracks being evaluated, along with a with terahertz inspection. ET-123 is also undergoing PAL ramp removal.
According to NASA, the summit is a routine meeting of all relevant parties involved with the Space Shuttles.
‘The orbiter summit is a periodic occurrence and simply allows the NASA/contractor community to get together and review the processing flows for each orbiter and how those fit within internal assigned flight guidelines,’ noted Kyle Herring of Space Shuttle Program Public Affairs.
‘It’s a high level technical discussion of all parts of the orbiters themselves.’
NASA have consistently noted in the media their optimism in making a May, 2006 Return to Flight – starting with Discovery’s test flight and logistics mission to the ISS (International Space Station), kick-starting what is currently a 19 mission manifest (18 to the ISS, one to service the Hubble Space Telescope).
However, while the recent PRCB meeting was expected to set the NET (No Earlier Than) dates for the next seven missions, it was decided to publicly remain as TBA (To Be Announced), with the previously revealed launch dates being used more as a processing guideline – as Herring elaborated.
‘The launch dates for STS-121 and the follow-on flight of Atlantis on STS-115 are TBD right now for a number of reasons with the target launch windows of May and July 2006 in mind for internal purposes so that training flows, processing (orbiter, tanks, boosters, payloads, etc.) can be laid out,’ he added.
‘The program would like nothing better than to launch as soon as possible, but as safely as possible.’
The summit will be followed by members of the Orbiter senior management meeting over Wednesday and Thursday to discuss Orbiter issues and long-term strategy.