Atlantis issue delays rollout – STS-120 moving up

by Chris Bergin

Atlantis’ rollout to Launch Pad 39A has been delayed until at least Thursday morning, as engineers work an unspecified issue ahead of STS-117.

Meanwhile, NASA managers have been discussing moving Atlantis’ STS-120 launch date up by about 12 days, in order to add lighting opportunities for ET photography, and in mitigation of spacecraft congestion on the International Space Station (ISS), caused by the arrival of both Russia’s Soyuz and Europe’s ATV.

**The most comprehensive collection of STS-117 onwards related presentions and mission documentation are available to download on L2 **

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It is not yet clear as to the specific problem with Atlantis – currently stacked to ET-124 and boosters inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) – with further details expected early Tuesday. There will be a new article once that information arrives.

Other preparations have been proceeding to plan, with Atlantis’ payload reaching the pad early on Monday morning. ‘Payload delivery to the Pad occurred this morning at 0254 hrs. The canister lift began at 0540 hrs this morning,’ noted Monday’s Launch Operations report (on L2).

‘Space Shuttle Vehicle transfer to the pad status: Preps status: VAB platform retract inspections began on 3rd shift with C platform which is scheduled for retraction 1st shift today.’

STS-120 – which is the mission that will follow STS-117 for Atlantis – is being moved up to August 26 from September 7, for reasons outlined in a PRCB (Program Control Requirements Board) presentation (downloadable on L2), which noted the change ‘provides 5 opportunities for a lighted ET/SEP for ET-120 and it also alleviates potential spacing problems at the space station.’

While the new NET (No Earlier Than) date has been implemented into the latest FAWG and Launch Schedule manifests (both downloadable on L2), following the presentation to the PRCB, the document gives a fascinating insight into NASA’s evaluations – and challenges – when tasked with moving up a launch date.

Those evaluations, in which all relevant NASA departments and shuttle contractors were asked for their appraisal of the new launch date, saw some areas of the program recommending against the move.

The first note of concern came from MSFC (Marshall Space Flight Center), who flagged the SSME (Space Shuttle Main Engine) installation on Atlantis as a ‘red’ schedule risk.

‘This launch schedule carries significant schedule risk for engine installation. The third HPOTP (high-pressure oxidizer turbopump) delivery required for this mission is currently planned for 24 days before installation,’ MSFC noted.

‘Although this is within the minimum of 21 days, the HPOTP delivery schedule is vulnerable to test delays and the small margin could be easily lost.’

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Most areas of the shuttle program gave their blessing to the new launch date, although there were notes of the change being ‘demanding,’ as claimed by Kennedy Space Center (KSC): ‘There will be high Ground Ops resource demands and budget/overtime issues; the full impact will be dependent on the STS-122 and STS-123 Launch date Milestones.’

However, the overall recommendation proved to be against moving the launch date up as far as August 26 – claiming August 30 would be more favorable – based mainly on ‘crew loading,’ and overtime costs, as nine full pages of written comments were summarized.

‘Based on the response, disapprove this launch date change,’ noted the presentation’s findings. ‘Based on 6 sets of crews being in front of STS-120/10A’s crew the chances for the crew loading to increase is likely. Even if you manage crew loading tasks for STS-120/10A the STS-120 crew could be displaced by other flights’ changes.

‘Consider moving STS-120 to 8/30. It is on a Thursday and will minimize overtime for KSC (8/26 is on a Sunday, highest cost). The additional days mitigate the schedule threats expressed by SSME, ET, Shuttle Processing and Orbiter. It provides 8 more days of handheld opportunities and the 8/30 and 8/31 would be lighted for ET/Sep, 7 days of lighted launch.

‘Crew loading may stay in the green (needs to be verified by MOD). An initial assessment put crew loading < 46 hours average for 8/31 launch.’

Atlantis will be carrying Node 2 for installation on to the International Space Station, after being previously deferred following the Columbia accident.

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