NASA ready White Sands for Discovery

by Chris Bergin

Only used once before for a Shuttle landing, White Sands Space Harbor (WSSH) in New Mexico is receiving a huge amount of activity ahead of the potential landing of Discovery on Friday.

Currently the most likely of the three landing sites to hold acceptable landing weather for Discovery, the facility could see an orbiter land on its runaway for the first time since Columbia landed there in 1982 on STS-3.

**Over 2100mb of STS-116 onwards related presentions and mission documentation available on L2 ** Daily MMT/MER STS-116 Presentations, and the 400 page STS landing site presentation on L2 helped collate this article. Further MMT/MER Updates now posted to L2, plus three STA landing videos at White Sands.

**LIVE news updates on Discovery STS-116 – FOR EACH FLIGHT DAY** – 100s of live updates each flight day, including images and videos, all interactive.

NASA’s Management Mission Team (MMT) has been ensuring White Sands is able to give the best possible support to Discovery, should she land there, although the decision itself won’t be made until slightly before the go for deorbit burn on Friday.

While NASA would prefer to land Discovery at the Kennedy Space Center, in order to reduce the hit to the processing flow for the orbiter, NASA’s main aim is to get Discovery on the ground on Friday.

‘Our aim is to get Discovery on the ground on Friday, but not to the extent that it will be beyond our weather minimums. We don’t want to put our backs against the wall so to speak,’ said senior manager in the mission operations directorate Phil Engelauf.

‘It’ll be longer coming back from there as we don’t have the facilities (at WSSH) as we have at Edwards or KSC where we have everything we need. We will look at each landing site on a case by case basis on Friday and pick the lesser of two evils.’

A MMT presentation, outlining requirements, noted that one of the main concerns relating to landing at White Sands is the overnight low temperatures, which is requiring the bulk of NASA’s evaluations on mitigating risks to the orbiter whilst on the ground.

‘Due to potential weather concerns at KSC and Dryden (Edwards Air Force Base in California), the Program may need to land at White Sands Space Harbor (WSSH). We are looking at possibility keeping an APU running, or alternative sources of heating, but we are looking at the potential of freezing conditions overnight, but we are looking at the best strategies to protect the vehicle,’ noted Engelauf.

This was further confirmed by the MMT documentation from Wednesday, acquired by this site.

‘WSSH landing will result in limited in vehicle power-up time due to lack of ground cooling, purge and power equipment pre-positioned at WSSH. WSSH temperatures are predicted to fall into the low 20’s at night.

‘Power supply voltage capability relative to Vehicle ICD / Subsystem operating limits,’ was listed as a ‘concern,’ requiring managers to ‘prioritize list of system power requirements to accommodate available capability,’ while also identifying ‘Crew Cabin Purge capability for thermal conditioning.’

**Ride home through the fire and plasma of re-entry with Atlantis – Stunning 2hr, 355mb video**

Every element of the Shuttle program has been called into action on providing their best evaluations on what it’ll take to care for Discovery before her trip back to KSC, including Boeing and the United Space Alliance.

‘Each subsystem was tasked to evaluate their hardware for potential concerns due to landing at WSSH based on the following: Vehicle will be powered down and on its own without any ground power, cooling or purge for at least 48 hours,’ added documentation.

‘Subsystems also requested to identify any unique GSE/other equipment requirements (beyond what would normally be provided for Orbiter recovery at Dryden), and unique actions to be performed by the flight crew or Ground support personnel prior to vehicle power down.

Also a concern at White Sands is the landing strip itself, which is located in a harsh environment. As seen as with Columbia’s landing early in the program, the ‘gypsum’ can be an issue if it gets into the orbiter’s plugs and nozzles.

‘The program has put in a number of measures to protect the vehicle from gypsum, in the standpoint of physical protection where we can move Discovery into tented protection,’ added Engelauf. ‘We have throat plugs or nozzles and we are planning to fly two C-17s out there with various equipment to get the vehicle protected more quickly than we did with Columbia.’

This was also outlined in MMT documentation.

‘Vehicle isolation requiring crew/grd procedure changes for thermal and contamination concerns. Keep ET doors and windward vent doors closed. Supply Water Dump Iso vlv kept closed (normally open for landing). Water dump line purged in flight.

‘Contamination due to blowing gypsum: System isolation for thermal and contamination concerns. Requires variety of plugs, Mylar & Tape, or butcher paper (consider pre-staging). Ammonia vent, FES steam vent, APUs (3), WSBs (3), MPS LH2 dump port, RCS Thrusters, OMS Throat Plugs, Fuel Cell H2O nozzle, Fuel Cell H2 Purge Port, Fuel Cell O2 Purge Port.

‘Leave open: PRSD Gaseous Hydrogen relief vents (2), PRSD Gaseous Oxygen relief vent. Optional: N2O4 and MMH tank relief vents (Fwd and Aft).’

This may all be irrelevant come Friday, as the weather forecasts continue to be evaluated. Engelauf made a point of referring to the launch of Discovery, where the weather was pointing towards a second scrub earlier in the day.

‘Looking at Friday, it’s still far enough into the future on the forecasts. You might say that looking at the forecasts today that it looks more favorable for White Sands, but you might remember that when we launched Discovery, it was on a 70 percent no go for launch weather constraint, but we were go by the time we got to launch.’

Also allayed are fears that Discovery will be stranded on orbit should she be unable to land at any one of the three landing sites on Friday or Saturday, which would result in the orbiter heading back to the space station from which she departed from yesterday.

Engelauf noted that while a plan is available to allow Discovery to go back to the International Space Station (ISS) – albeit highly undesirable as it would lead to an LON (Launch On Need) contingency, requiring Atlantis to launch and return the crew home – that would still come behind landing Discovery at an emergency landing site.

‘As far as going back to the station, that would be a one way trip. If we were to do that, we would use the orbiter’s deorbit gas to go back to the ISS. We don’t see ourselves in a posture to do that,’ noted Engelauf.

‘If we did start looking at such a contingency, we’d start looking at emergency landing sites, but going to such a site would have major issues, but it would be a last ditch attempt to save the vehicle.’

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