As expected, STS-117 has been moved into 2007, with the new NET (No Earlier Than) date being January 18, 2007.
Atlantis was originally on the manifest as the fourth mission of 2006 – although that was highly unlikely, even before the move to a July window for STS-121. NASA is still capable of three missions this year.
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Previously slatted for a NET window of December 7, Atlantis’ mission is the third International Space Station Assembly flight, post STS-121 – which is primarily a test mission, to evaluate the reduction in foam liberation on the External Tank (ET), post PAL ramp removal.
STS-117 (ISS Assembly flight 13A) will carry the S3/S4 truss to the ISS and will be the 28th mission undertaken by Atlantis.
The move has very little impact on the 17 flight Shuttle manifest, as the mission moves into a empty period in flights, with the mission to follow (STS-118 with Endeavour) currently on a NET window beginning April 19, 2007
Three flights in 2006 will still be based on processing flows, positive results on the performance of ET-119 with Discovery on STS-121, plus ET availability at the Michoud Assembly Facility.
Lockheed and MAF currently have ET-118 set to ship from New Orleans next month, with the tank set to fly with Atlantis on STS-115.
The next tank to ship is likely to be between ET-120 – which had been set to fly with Discovery last year on STS-114, before problems with its ECO (Engine Cut Off) sensors, plus nearly double the normal amount of cycles through the LH2 pressurization relief valve (hydrogen vent valve), saw a rollback and tank swap with ET-121 – and ET-93.
Both tanks are currently classed as ‘test articles’ – aiding Wind Tunnel computer evaluations, while undergoing modifications on their PAL ramps and ice/frost ramps.
However, Shuttle manager Wayne Hale is confident that three missions can be launched in 2006.
‘I do think it’s possible, we do need to work on the schedule a little bit and see how quickly we can get the vehicles turned around, but I wouldn’t take that off the table at this point,’ he said.
‘I still think it’s entirely possible to get three Shuttle flights in this calendar year.’