Atlantis avoids early retirement – will keep flying to 2010

by Chris Bergin

NASA managers have decided to manifest shuttle orbiter Atlantis with missions through to 2010, cancelling her previously planned retirement in 2008.

Information gained from STS-122 – the next flight of Atlantis – processing documentation, along with the latest FAWG (Flight Assignment Working Group) manifests, confirm the addition of two further missions for the orbiter, to follow after STS-122 and her flagship STS-125 mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope.

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L2 Members: All documentation and presentations used in this article are available to download on the L2 section.

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Atlantis was originally set to retire in 2008 after the Hubble mission. Given the shuttle program is due to end in 2010, the subsequent OMDP (Orbiter Maintenance Down Period) – which would have taken at least a year – it was decided her retirement in 2008 was deemed to be the best course of action.

Atlantis would have remained inside an OPF (Orbiter Processing Facility) and maintained to near flight ready condition, to be used as a parts donor for her two sisters, Discovery and Endeavour.

This decision has now been reversed, with Atlantis taking two missions which were previous allocated to either Discovery or Endeavour. The STS-122 baseline presentation – acquired by this site’s L2 section in May – shows that one of those flights which Atlantis will take is STS-127, set to launch NET (No Earlier Than) June 30, 2009.

Previously Endeavour’s mission, STS-127 will deliver the final element of the Japanese Experiment Module – the EF (Exposed Facility ‘Terrace’) – which will be located outside the port cone of the JAXA Pressurized Module (PM) core component – set to fly with Discovery on STS-124 (April 24, 2008).

**Ride home through the fire and plasma of re-entry with Atlantis on STS-115 – And now also with Discovery on STS-116 – TWO Stunning high quality 2hr, 355mb videos – from deorbit burn to post landing**

The other mission Atlantis is likely to take is STS-131 (ULF4), carrying the CBC, Russian Docking Cargo Module, manifested to fly NET January 28, 2010.

With this extension to Atlantis’ operational lifetime, certain elements of the OMDP can still be safely carried out during pre/post-launch processing intervals.

The ability to keep the fleet flying without the stand-down of OMDP before 2010 was outlined in an October 2006 presentation to the PRCB (Program Control Requirements Board).

Titled the ‘3 year / 8 Flight OMRSD (Operations Maintenance Requirements Specifications Document) Review,’ the presentation from the Orbiter Project Office (OPO) showed that only Endeavour had the ability to keep flying until 2010 before an OMDP was due – under the then current guidelines.

‘Current 3 year/8 flight OMDP interval requirement does not support remaining flight manifest without test reset or interval increase,’ the presentation opened, before noting that Discovery is actually due an OMDP in March 2008, Atlantis in July 2008, along with Endeavour in July 2010 at the time of the document’s creation.

The purpose of the evaluations noted in the presentation was to look at the possibility of extending the OMDP interval requirement to 5.5 years, which would enable the whole fleet to keep flying until the scheduled retirement of the shuttle program.

This appeared favorable, as the review found that out of the ‘722 subsystem-coded requirements’ only 29 ‘dispositions’ were deemed unacceptable past the three year interval – with those requirements likely to be worked on the orbiters during pre/post flight processing flows, compared with 693 ‘dispositions’ classed as acceptable for the extension to a 5.5 year interval between OMDPs.

Concluding that the program will ‘define new OMDP new interval of 8 flights and 5.5 years, for extendable requirements,’ the shuttle program will ‘continue to partner with KSC the Implementation Plans for the items that must be performed prior to 3 years,’ with Discovery and her previously due date for OMDP – which ensures that ‘based on these OMRSD Reviews, (OMDP, Interval and Time/Cycle), there should be no large impacts to the current manifest.’

Ultimately, this was implemented into the STS-122 baseline, before finally being confirmed with the extension to Atlantis’ operation lifetime in the latest FAWG manifests, which also confirm some refinements to the schedule, including the advancement of Endeavour’s upcoming return to flight action after a five year wait. Another set of minor refinements were made to the manifest last Friday.

STS-118 now has a new NET date of August 7, assisted by a very smooth processing flow which is allowing the youngest orbiter to rollover out of OPF 2 on July 2, ahead of mating with ET-117 and the twin Solid Rocket Boosters inside the VAB.

Meanwhile, Atlantis – currently at Edwards Air Force Base after Friday’s return to Earth on STS-117 – is undergoing a level of post flight processing, including the flushing of residual propellants from her main engines, and the SCAPE operations to remove hazardous hypergolic fuels from her Reaction Control Systems.

After this process, a tail cone faring will be mated on her aft, before being mated with NASA’s SCA (Shuttle Carrier Aircraft) next week for the piggyback ride back to KSC.

Her crew, including former ISS crewmember Suni Williams, have arrived back at their home base in Houston on Saturday.

For L2 members, follow and review NASA’s evaluations on the L2 Flight Day specific pages for STS-117’s mission and post launch processing (which contain many 100s and same day MMT level documentation and presentations – uploaded live during each Flight Day).

Latest Manifest – in text form:

July 22 – Progress M-61 (26P)
August 7 – STS-118 (13A.1) – Endeavour – Spacehab-SM, S5, ESP3
[October 5 – STS-322 (Rescue STS-118) – Discovery]
October 10 – Soyuz TMA-11 (15S)
October 20 – STS-120 (10A) – Discovery – Node 2 ‘Harmony’
[December 2 – STS-320 (Rescue STS-120) – Atlantis]
December 6 – STS-122 (1E) – Atlantis – ICC-Lite, Columbus
December 12 (TBD) – Progress M-62 (27P)

January – ATV-1 ‘Jules Verne’
[January 31 – STS-323 (Rescue STS-122) – Endeavour]
February 12 (TBD) – Progress M-63 (28P)
February 14 – STS-123 (1J/A) – Endeavour – SLP-D1 with SPDM ‘Dextre’, JEM ELM-PS
April 8 – Soyuz TMA-12 (16S)
[April 10 – STS-324 (Rescue STS-123) – Discovery]
April 24 – STS-124 (1J) – Discovery – JEM PM with JEM RMS 
[July 23 – STS-326 (Rescue STS-124) – Endeavour]
September 10 – STS-125 (HST-SM4) – Atlantis
[September 17 – STS-400 (Rescue STS-125) – Endeavour]
October 16 – STS-126 (ULF2) – Endeavour – MPLM, LMC

January 15 – TBD – Discovery – TBD
April 23 – TBD – Endeavour – TBD
June 30 – TBD – Atlantis – TBD
September 11 – TBD – Discovery – TBD
November 19 – TBD – Endeavour – TBD

January 28 – TBD – Atlantis – TBD
April 7 – TBD – Discovery – TBD
June 10 – TBD – Endeavour – TBD

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