Endeavour launches – debris observed

by Chris Bergin

Shuttle Endeavour is back on orbit, after successfully launches from Pad 39A this evening. One debris event was observed from live video, but appears to have missed the orbiter.

During the countdown, engineers overcame issues relating to the Fuel Cell coolant pump, a crack in the External Tank foam, issues with the side hatch closure, along with a number of minor issues, allowing Endeavour to ride uphill for the first time in nearly five years.

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Endeavour’s launch marks the second in a row lift-off to occur on the first attempt, following Atlantis’ ride uphill during STS-117. This time, however, engineers had to evaluate a couple of extra issues during the countdown.

They included the monitoring of the coolant pump for the Fuel Cells onboard Endeavour, a crack observed in foam on the External Tank – which was later cleared as safe to fly ‘as is’ by the Mission Management Team (MMT), and side hatch closure indication errors.

In the end, none of the issues proved to be a constraint to launch, as Endeavour rose into perfect weather at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

**UPDATED: Ride home through the fire, sparks and plasma of re-entry with Atlantis, Discovery and Endeavour. FOUR Stunning high quality 2hr, 355-400mb Camcorder and HUD videos – from payload bay closure to post landing – several more videos showing landing from 90,000 ft also available**

However, around 30 seconds after SRB (Solid Rocket Booster) separation, one visible debris event was observed, liberating from the ET, but – on first views – missing the orbiter’s TPS (Thermal Protection System). At the time of liberation, it is unlikely to be an immediate concern for NASA.

Evaluation of video, and the upcoming inspections will be used to clear the event as a concern – which is expected, given the debris only appeared to be small.

In the post launch press conference, it was confirmed that several debris events happened after SRB sep, but all were after the point in which they could cause damage to the orbiter, had they of hit the TPS. Overall, it was one of the cleanest launches since Return To Flight.

Endeavour now has her payload bay doors open, and the crew have started on orbit operations.

‘It was really rewarding to see Endeavour fly, and see her safe on orbit,’ said Launch Director Mike Leinbach. ‘It’s good to have Endeavour back in the fleet.’

At the time of launch, the International Space Station (ISS), having passed over Canada, was at 44 deg N latitude, 54.8 deg W longitude, i.e., south of St. John’s (Newfoundland) and east of Halifax (Nova Scotia).

Endeavour will be docking with the ISS on Friday.

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