As expected, Hurricane Ernesto has forced NASA to call off the launch of Shuttle Atlantis – ordering the rollback of the vehicle to the Vehicle Assembly Building.
All eyes are now on discussions with the Russian Space Agency, as evaluations are taking place on delaying the launch of their Soyuz vehicle, to give Atlantis a chance of launching after the first week of September.
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United Space Alliance workers are carrying out dual operations, using two Crawler-Transporters for brining Atlantis back into the safety of the VAB.
First, one transporter will move the STS-116 stack – currently an MLP (Mobile Launch Platform) plus the early stacking of the Solid Rocket Boosters – into High Bay 2, making way for Atlantis to roll back into directly to the VAB. That crawler is now outside the VAB. (UPDATE: Now inside the VAB to move STS-116 stack).
The other crawler-transporter will pick up Atlantis – and the MLP she is standing on – once she is released from the launch pad, before making the eight hour journey back to the VAB. That crawler is now on the outskirts of launch pad 39B.
The Cat 1 hurricane is now predicted to head right over the Cape, hopefully causing little damage, as that also will have to be evaluated for any potential rollback to the launch pad for an attempt in the second week of September.
‘We would stay in there as the storm passes, check the center to make sure there is no damage, before clearing the vehicle and the launch pad to take Atlantis back out to the pad – which might take a couple of days,’ added Leinbach.
Talks are on-going with the Russians at Roskosmos to work on a potential plan that would see the Soyuz launch window being postponed, with sources monitoring a ‘potentially positive outcome.’
That – if all goes well with the aforementioned turnaround of Atlantis after the hurricane, could give Atlantis a window of up to September 13 – as per lighting restrictions.
More to follow shortly. NASA Press Conference at 10am Local (3pm UK).