NASA considers fourth Atlantis opportunity

by Chris Bergin

Shuttle Atlantis may gain a fourth day in her launch window for STS-115, as NASA considers all options to enable the launch to proceed without a delay to the October window.

Atlantis is currently in the launch countdown for a Wednesday afternoon launch to re-start assembly missions to the International Space Station (ISS).


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An internal NASA memo noted that a launch on the 9th of September would require Atlantis to be undocked no later than the 17th of September, but is being looked at. The date may be added if weather causes issues with launch conditions, but would likely to be a last resort.

While the fourth isn’t feasible in certain situations, such as in the scenario of three scrubs being called after tanking starts on launch day – thus requiring a stand-down on the fourth day – it could come into affect if NASA is left with just the final day or two in the launch window due to bad weather.

Officially, NASA is looking at a three day launch window, from the 6th to the 8th of September – with the 8th only becoming a viable option after the Russian’s agreed to move the launch of Soyuz TMA-9 to the end of their available launch window – if required.

‘A launch on 9/6 (~1129 CDT) is feasible and is the goal,’ noted a Shuttle Standup Memo. ‘The ‘sharpened pencil look’ appears to give us 9/8 as well, for a window of 9/6-8. 9/9 is being looked at, but we need to be undocked by 9/17 to allow the Soyuz to launch on 9/18.’

Shuttle managers are meeting on Monday for their L-2 Mission Management Team (MMT) meeting – and under discussion will be the weather, which is too close to call for the first attempt on Wednesday. The meeting could either keep the September 9th option on the table, or rule it out.

‘Currently the proposed L-2 MMT is 1200 CDT on 9/4 (Labor Day),’ added the memo. ‘The proposed L-1 MMT is 0800 CDT on 9/5 due to late night tanking per the timeline.’

Storms are expected for the afternoon, in a similar pattern through the week, although Atlantis may dodge weather issues due to an earlier launch time. Atlantis also dodged bad weather on Saturday evening, when a lightning strike hit Pad 39A – next door to the pad Atlantis is sat on.

It was a lightning strike to Pad 39B, prior to the previous launch window Atlantis was aiming for, that played a part in the move to the early September launch window.


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