Shuttle Endeavour and her crew have safely returned back home, after landing at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Tuesday.
Endeavour was given the green light to go for the deorbit burn on the first landing opportunity, and touched down just after 12:32pm local time, ending the two week STS-118 mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Her performance during re-entry, including the debuting of the three-string GPS, has been classed as “phenomenal” by engineers monitoring the orbiter.
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NASA opted to take up two landing opportunities for bringing Endeavour home on Tuesday, with the first attempt always favored by the weather.
‘1st KSC rev appears best; 2nd rev some precip but appears dissipating; concern is possible cross-winds,’ noted console notes updating NASA and contractor engineers monitoring Endeavour’s deorbit preps this morning. ‘Not bringing up Edwards.’
That proved to be accurate, as Endeavour was given the go for the deorbit burn, followed by a flawless re-entry.
Endeavour – on the back of the successful debut of the SSPTS (Station-to-Shuttle Power Transfer System) on orbit – was also marking the debut of the three-string GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) system, which replaces the three Tactical Navigation Units.
‘(The) 3-string GPS performance was phenomenal throughout Entry and Landing,’ noted a logged report by the MER (Mission Evaluation Room). ‘GPS was taken to Auto shortly after transition to OPS3, at GMT 233/13:21:51. It was inhibited ~45 minutes prior to de-orbit burn at 233/14:40:24.
‘After confirmation with high speed radar tracking, GPS was again taken to Auto at GMT 233/16:22:09 at 137,949 feet altitude. GPS was incorporated from that point until MSBLS (Microwave Scan Beam Landing System) was taken.
‘No anomalies were noted throughout the mission, other than one short occurrence of a known DR condition (satellite tracking on a carrier sideband) while docked to ISS.’
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Endeavour is now back inside her OPF High Bay 2 (Orbiter Processing Facility), ready for post flight servicing, and the road back to flight status with STS-123 launch processing, as NASA’s three orbiters continue the mission of completing the International Space Station (ISS), which is now around 60 percent completed.
‘Little bit, by little bit, we get the station built. I personally find it hard to look at (images of the ISS) and think anything other than this is one of the great accomplishments of mankind,’ noted NASA administrator Mike Griffin. ‘It’s an awesome accomplishment that we’re in the middle of.
‘Every flight is a hard flight. Every flight is the most important flight – and that will remain so until we’re done.’
While the mission was a complete success, media attention focused on the tile damage that occurred when a piece of foam liberated from the LOX 17 inch feedline after 58 seconds of Endeavour’s ride uphill.
The subsequent damage was the focus of huge undertaking of analysis and consultation by engineers, despite the observed damage being far less than previous TPS (Thermal Protection System) impacts sustained by orbiters throughout the flight history of the shuttle program.
The end result was a decision by the Mission Management Team (MMT) not to carry out an on orbit repair of the gouge near Endeavour’s starboard Main Landing Gear door – which held its own risks, and could have made the damage worse. The decision was justified by the flawless re-entry.
Detailed evaluations on the tile damage will now be carried out in the OPF, although Griffin made his feelings known, after taking a close-up look at Endeavour’s on the Shuttle Landing Facility runway.
‘Oh, and by the way, the tile did very well on re-entry,’ he told the media at the post flight press briefing at KSC, backed up by KSC Launch Director Mike Leinbach, who noted Endeavour appears to be the ‘cleanest’ post flight orbiter since Return To Flight.
Earlier, Endeavour was cleared for re-entry following Late Inspections on her primary areas of TPS (Thermal Protection System). All items were cleared, along with system hardware which earned a note of praise for the vehicle from Shuttle managers Wayne Hale and Steve Poulos.
‘On orbit – 100 percent of late inspection imagery went through level 2, which is highest fidelity screening. Identified 25 regions of interest (ROI) – all cleared,’ noted the Stand-up/Integration report.
‘Are only tracking 14 items on white board, and considering this vehicle was down 4 and a half years and had some major modifications, no significant problems have been identified.
‘This has been a phenomenal mission. Mr. Poulos and Mr. Hale said everyone who worked on OV-105 OMM (Orbiter Maintenance Modification) and this mission deserves congratulations.’
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