All three landing sites open for Discovery

by Chris Bergin

NASA will ensure all three US landing site options are open to Shuttle Discovery for her return to terra firma on Friday.

NASA will land Discovery on the Friday at any one of the three sites, with Saturday reserved in case of a technical contingency. However, new information also shows the MMT is meeting Monday to discuss a possible landing on Thursday, with a shortened late inspection.

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**Article addition – see end of article** With the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) the preferred option, NASA will also have the option of Edwards Air Force Base in California, and White Sands in New Mexico – the latter only ever previously hosting one landing.

That came in March, 1982, when Columbia landed on STS-3 – her third test flight mission – famously rearing up during rotation on the Northrup Strip, as it was previously known.

Late inspection of Discovery’s TPS (Thermal Protection System) won’t be taken out of the schedule to allow the usual landing scenarios, which involves being able to wave off to another day if there’s a chance the orbiter can land at the more desirable option of a return to KSC the next day.

EVA 4 is required to complete the retraction of the solar array panels on the P6 truss, which only has 11 bays to go after the super efforts made on EVA 3.

‘The decision of the MMT (Management Mission Team) was to do the EVA 4 and retain late inspection,’ said senior manager in the mission operations directorate Phil Engelauf. ‘We’re constrained to being back on the ground within the consumables that we have – and we had to take a day out somewhere.

‘So what we have come up with is that we’ll do the EVA on Flight Day 10 (Monday). On Flight Day 11 we’ll do the undocking, but it will be slightly later in the day.’

The reason for the slight delay in undocking from the ISS also relates to the unscheduled EVA, as spacewalk equipment will need to be accounted for and ‘cleaned up’ on Tuesday.

‘Flight Day 12 (Wednesday) will be the late inspection day – as originally planned for Flight Day 11 – but one day later. Flight Day 13 will be what we typically see on a mission minus one day scenario, with the checkouts of such things as the RCS (Reaction Control Systems).

‘This will result in our first landing opportunity on Flight Day 14 (Friday). With that day being the last before the final opportunity, it means we are going to call up all three landing sites.

‘Our intent will be to put the vehicle on the ground somewhere on that day at one of those sites. The only situation where that won’t happen is if we had a systems problem during deorbit prep and checkout activities – enough to make us concerned enough to wave off for another 24 hours, or if the weather was unacceptable at all three sites.’

Current forecasts show Edwards is the less likely of the three options. KSC is always preferred to save on the processing flow hit and costs of having to piggy back the orbiter on top of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft back home.

New information, gained by this site’s L2 section, now includes a plan for a landing on Thursday.

MMT tomorrow will look at weather and if we have to land on Thursday some form of late inspection will be done on Wednesday post SCS checkout,” noted the NASA memo.

‘May look at EE inspection instead of LDRI full inspection. Will look at reducing inspection based on Wednesday activities if land on Thurs due to weather.’

Further news will follow, post decision.


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