Managers at NASA’s Flight Readiness Review (FRR) in Florida have given their final approval for the launch of Shuttle Atlantis to proceed as planned, no sooner than August 27.
Atlantis will be carrying the P3/P4 solar array truss elements to the International Space Station (ISS) – the first assembly flight post-Columbia disaster – on a complex mission involving three spacewalks.
The bolts holding the KU band antenna in place in Atlantis’ cargo bay proved to be the biggest topic of discussion at the FRR, with foam liberation concerns on the External Tank being diluted, following a clean STS-121 last month.
Evaluations on what to do with the bolts are still on-going, but not seriousness enough to affect the launch date – despite a previous NASA memo noting that a changeout of the bolts would lead to a rollback of the stack into the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).
‘The longest thing we talked about wasn’t the foam,’ said Shuttle manager Wayne Hale. ‘It was about the famous bolts that were found on the KU antenna. This is a real success story, an example of improving safety on board the Space Shuttle.
‘Some 25 or 30 years ago a mistake was made in the design of this particular component, in the way this antenna is bolted on the orbiter. For the last 25 years we’ve been flying with these thread fasteners – these bolts that barely have a thread or two that holds them on. That is not good engineering practise.
‘We had an exhaustive review – which is still ongoing – looking at all the thread fasteners on the orbiters and we found that the bolts weren’t long enough. That is not where we want to be. So we changed the bolts out on Discovery and Endeavour.
NASA is evaluating whether they need to change the bolts out on Atlantis at the pad – allowing her to fly without any engineering being required on the antenna. Any work would have to be undertaken with great care, so as not to damage the nearby payload.
‘On Atlantis the access very difficult, so we are doing more work to see how much risk is involved with changing those bolts out.’
‘I think it’s likely we’ll change those bolts out, but the analysis is still ongoing,’ added Hale.
‘This is a normal day in the life of the Space Shuttle and I expect them to go on over the life of the Shuttle.
‘All in all the team has worked very hard. We have 17,000 people working around the country on the Space Shuttle program and we’re ready to go forward with the completion of a few last items and we aim to be back here on August 27 and hope mother nature will cooperate with us for an on-time launch on Sunday afternoon.’
Dissenting opinion was still in evidence at the FRR, but as with STS-121’s meeting, this was encouraged, to ensure no stones were left unturned.
‘It was an honor to work with this team, a thrill to see another FRR,’ said NASA Administrator Michael Griffin. ‘It was a great review, and I look forward to a great launch.’
‘The teams have done a great job of getting us here,’ added Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier, who chaired the Flight Readiness Review. ‘We still have some minor open work in front of us. We look forward to the return to assembly,’
Update, Saturday evening: KU Bolts have been replaced successfully.