NASA ready to roll with Atlantis and STS-115

by Chris Bergin

While NASA celebrates the successful conclusion to STS-121, following Monday’s return of Shuttle Discovery, the kick-start to the task of completing the International Space Station (ISS) starts in earnest next month.

Atlantis’ STS-115 mission, with a NET (No Earlier Than) August 27 launch date, is a major step up from Discovery’s mission, a point emphasised by Shuttle manager Wayne Hale, who classed the mission as “the most complicated assembly mission in the history of human space flight.”

**The 200 page STS-115 Flight Plan is available in full on L2**

**Atlantis STS-115 Live Update Pages**

As Discovery rolled back into her home Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF 3), sister ship Atlantis is just a week away from leaving her home (OPF 1) to rollover to the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) in preparations to be mated with the STS-115 stack.

Atlantis’ mission payload will be carrying the Port 3/4 truss – the next major addition to the 11-segment integrated truss structure that will eventually span more than 300 feet. The truss, with its two large solar arrays, is a vital component in supplying extra power to the future configuration of the orbital outpost.

‘We are launching in just six weeks time on probably the most complicated assembly mission that has ever been scheduled in human space flight,’ said Hale. ‘We have the team practised and battle hardened and ready to go do that.’

STS-115, according to its Flight Plan, will involve a 12 day mission, incorporating three spacewalks (EVAs) and the installation of the truss segment – plus deployment of its solar arrays.

‘The primary objective of this flight is to deliver and integrate the completion of ISS Stage 12A with the P3/P4 Integrated Truss Segment (ITS). The P4 Photovoltaic (PV) Module (PVM) contains two beta gimbal/PV array assemblies, two Beta Gimbal Transition Structures (BGTSs), one Integrated Equipment Assembly (IEA) – Type I, and associated cabling,’ noted the Flight Plan.

‘The cargo element also includes 6 battery sets, PV radiator, 2 Unpressurized Cargo Carrier Attach Systems (UCCAS), Solar Array Rotating Joint (SARJ) and preintegrated Orbiter Space Vision System (OSVS) targets. The CE occupies the majority of the payload bay and is attached in the payload bay by four active longeron trunnion latches and two active keel trunnion latches.

‘Also part of the LP are the ISS Utilization payloads, which consist of six unpowered and three powered experiments.’

Hale also noted that a meeting on Friday will finalise the date for when Atlantis will be making the trip over the VAB, whilst confirming launch processing is ahead of schedule.

Much of the gained contingency was earned by Lockheed Martin engineers and technicians, who worked around the clock to changeout the ECO (Engine Cut Off) sensors in ET-118 at KSC, way ahead of schedule. Initially, only one day of contingency (for STS-301 LON – Launch On Need) remained following the arrival of the ‘incompleted’ tank.

A few more days of work will be carried out on Atlantis, including the changeout of around 100 gap fillers around the ET umbilical doors, resulting from a few issues spotted during Discovery’s two week journey in orbit.

‘We have (Atlantis) almost ready to rollout – and we have gone back and looked at the little bugs that we saw on Discovery, in terms of gap fillers and thermal blankets. We have also looked very hard at the APU (Auxiliary Power Units) system,’ added Hale.

‘This Friday we will have our rollout review for Atlantis, and next Monday or Tuesday we will see the rollout (rollover) of Atlantis to mate with the tank and solid rocket boosters.’

Subject to Atlantis’ launch will be the status of Discovery, as she is required to support her sister as the rescue vehicle during STS-115. Managers will be able to assess the status of Discovery by the time Atlantis is due to launch, as Discovery will be half way through her turnaround processing for STS-116 – her primary mission, which is set to launch in December.

‘We will be working very hard to get Discovery turned around. The landing at the Kennedy Space Center gives us an additional week of time that we would have normally worried about in the processing if we had landed out west (at Edwards Air Force base in California).’

Hale also added that ET-123, the tank which will fly with Discovery on STS-116 (and STS-301 if required) is on schedule, with an arrival time of September 10 – five days before the deadline for LON processing.

‘So we’re on track for the launch of Atlantis, we will be well covered from a rescue flight standpoint,’ Hale noted. ‘We also have considerable margin to get Discovery ready for December.’

Should all go to plan, NASA will be able to launch three times before the year is out.

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