Shuttle Atlantis has been handed a flagship finale, following the confirmation that she will now be the orbiter that will now conduct the Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission, with the launch date slipping to September 11, 2008.
The decision to swap STS-125 – known as HSM-04 – from Discovery to Atlantis was confirmed by the January 8 launch schedule document, which sees a widescale change to the shuttle mission manifest.
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Latest FAWG Manifest Presentation (Jan). New Launch Schedule Presentation – Jan 8. STS-125 NASA Memo updates. LON-325 Rescue Mission Outline and images – and more available on L2.
Moving to Atlantis was suggested around the time the confirmation of the servicing flight was given by NASA administrator Mike Griffin back in October.
Initially called the Flight of Opportunity, NASA had continued to place STS-125 as part of Discovery’s launch schedule. However, evaluations on swapping with Atlantis surrounding adding another flight to her final schedule, prior to 2008 retirement, had been bubbling under the surface of NASA’s plans.
Now NASA have decided to switch STS-125 with one of Atlantis’ scheduled missions, STS-126. The rationale on this move has not yet been explained, although the upcoming PRCB (Program Requirements Control Board) meeting – the first of the new year – may shed some light on the decision.
With STS-126’s switch, Discovery also becomes the rescue orbiter on LON-326 (Launch On Need), with a NET launch date requirement just one week after Atlantis is due to launch to Hubble.
This means Discovery will be sat on Launch Pad 39B at the time of Atlantis’ launch from 39A. While that wouldn’t be the first time two orbiters were out of adjacent pads, ironically it will be 39B’s final shuttle act, prior to being handed over to Constellation immedialty after the rescue contingency is stood down.
This, the fifth mission to Hubble, will also be the Atlantis’ first – and last – visit to the space telescope, after Hubble was launched by Discovery. Previous HSMs have been carried out by Endeavour, December 1993, Discovery, February 1997, Discovery, December 1999 and Columbia, March 2002.
STS-125 – which will be commanded by Scott Altman – will be the highlight mission prior to the 2010 retirement of the fleet, with the mission to Hubble widely lobbied by the science community since Griffin intimated that he would reverse the previous cancellation by former administrator Sean O’Keefe – if he was satisfied the safety of the crew was within strict requirements.
O’Keefe’s decision was understood at the time – if not criticized for being made by a still grieving agency post STS-107 – given the lack of a proven on-orbit repair capability.
However, following the post return to flight successes in both reducing foam liberation, and a refined rescue mission contingency, Griffin was satisfied that the mission to Hubble was safe enough to fly.
At the time of the decision it was confirmed that a unique rescue requirement would be placed in support of the servicing, given the lack of the International Space Station (ISS) Safe Haven option. If it was required, Discovery would launch to the stricken Atlantis, for a series of EVAs that would transfer the crew of Atlantis on to Discovery for a return home.
For the mission, Atlantis will carry 22,000 pounds of hardware to the aging telescope, with four spacewalks (EVAs) required during the 11 day mission. One of the highlights of the mission will be an EVA that will replace an electronics board inside the Hubble’s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS), which requires 111 screws being removed in the space of 45 minutes.
STS-121 astronaut and EVA specialist Piers Sellars, speaking to the BBC’s Sky at Night this week noted that the crew are already undergoing rigorous training in preparation for the mission.
In the payload bay will be primary elements SLIC (Super Lightweight Interchangeable Carrier), ORUC (Orbital Replacement Unit Carrier), FSS Flight Support System (Structure) and MULE (Multi-use Logistic Equipment Carrier) – that latter two elements swapping places since the previous mission to service Hubble.
Other moves noted in the brand new manifest include the next mission, STS-117, being evaluated for a one day advance of the current NET (No Earlier Than) launch date of March 16, STS-119 is being delayed from June 19 to July 7, and the post Hubble orbiter change seeing a number of missions switching between Discovery and Endeavour), with additional launch dates changes on those missions.
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