Shuttle Atlantis has successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS), midway through Flight Day 3 of STS-117.
Prior to docking, Atlantis carried out the always-stunning RPM (Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver), allowing Expedition 15 crew members to take high resolution imagery of the orbiter’s belly. Those images are now being downloaded to the large imagery team on the ground, who will check for any damage on the orbiter.
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The RPM is a post-Columbia addition to shuttle flights, which sees the crew initiate a back flip of the orbiter underneath the ISS, allowing for photography to be taken of an orbiter’s belly and TPS. This is then uploaded by imagery staff back on Earth for detailed inspections.
According to the ISS On Orbit Status report – published daily on L2 – Expedition 15 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin has been preparing the ISS crew for the RPM, which included making sure their cameras won’t run out of battery charge at the critical time.
The Russian commander worked on recharging a total of 10 batteries for the DCS digital still cameras ahead of the RPM.
‘Of the 10, eight will be used for the Orbiter RPM photo shoot on Sunday and two are for the first 13A spacewalk, EVA-1, on Monday (6/11, starting at ~2:53pm EDT).
‘Also in preparation for the upcoming high-pressure P/TV (Photo/Video) activity during the RPM, FE-1 Oleg Kotov worked throughout the day on formatting the necessary P/TV storage devices. Formatted, in the Kodak DCS 760 camera on station power, were five 1GB EVA Flash Cards plus three PCMCIA 1GB Microdrives, each one taking ~20 minutes.
‘Afterwards, the reformatted cards and microdrives were transferred to the SM (Service Module) for the DCS 760 camera configuration to get ready for the RPM documentation.’
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The RPM has been a huge success since being implemented, aiding the spotting of protruding gap fillers on the orbiter’s belly, along with finding any damage to stitching on the orbiters thermal blankets.
The bulk of inspections to the orbiter’s Wing Leading Edge (WLE) and nosecap areas were carried out during Saturday’s use of the OBSS (Orbiter Boom Sensor System) suite of sensors, which was swept along the critical areas of the orbiter on the end of her robotic arm.
So far, only one issue has been spotted on Atlantis TPS (Thermal Protection System) – a four inch area of protruding blanket on the port OMS Pod.
While no documented reason for the cause of the damage has yet been mentioned, bar the working theory from NASA’s SE&I that it may of been a debris hit, it was confirmed – and noted in the previous article on this site – that there wasn’t an impact from one of the 14 Tyvek covers on the orbiter during the early stages of the ride uphill.
In fact, documentation created on Saturday state that even if one had of hit, the speeds and impact energy would not have been sufficient to cause the observed damage.
‘Ground imagery indicates thruster F3F’s Tyvek rain cover released at 11.2 sec MET (Mission Elapsed Time). Approximate vehicle velocity would be 115 knots or 132 mph,’ summarized the presentation. ‘TPS Impact testing shows no issue at 240 mph.’
At present, engineers are checking data on the entry temps that the small area of exposed graphite epoxy structure will be subjected to, before any decision is made on whether it will require an EVA to repair.
Documents acquired by this site’s L2 section show that Atlantis’ crew have the capability to repair the area if needed, including T-Rad, which was developed for on orbit repair capabilities.
However, given the more extensive damage that was observed on the OMS Pods TPS in the early flights of the shuttle – without any problems from the subsequent re-entry – managers could well decide on leaving the blanket as-is. A decision will be made in the next few days.
Very few issues have been noted with Atlantis in total, with notes relating to several very small hits being registered on Atlantis’ Wing Leading Edge Impact Detection System (WLEIDS) sensor suite causing no concern, along with a Hatch Resistance Check fail and Supply water dump line temperature trend, which are only being classed as a ‘funnies’ – engineering lanuage for minor issues – by NASA’s MER (Mission Evaluation Room).
In all, Atlantis is enjoying a relatively trouble free flight around the planet, ahead of Sunday’s RPM and docking to the Station, which will kick start the major element of the mission – the installation of the S3/S4 truss segments and solar arrays to the orbital outpost, which will include three spacewalks.
Docking was noted at 3:36pm EDT.
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