Discovery arrives in the VAB – one month to STS-120 launch

by Chris Bergin

This time next month shuttle Discovery will hopefully be making her opening launch attempt for STS-120’s mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

A key milestone in the preparations for that launch has taken place, with the rollover from her “barn” – OPF-3 (Orbiter Processing Facility) – for stacking with the awaiting twin Solid Rocket Boosters and External Tank inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).

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Preparations have proceeded without a hitch over the past 24 hours, with operations to lower Discovery on to the OTS (Orbiter Transport System) on Saturday now completed. The OTS, a flatbed-style vehicle, will carry Discovery on the short trip to the VAB’s transfer aisle, before she’s lifted over to High Bay 1 for mating.

‘Weight and CG (Center of Gravity) completed. RH (Right Hand) main landing gear wheel and tire installation complete. S5023 orbiter mate to OTS call to stations was conducted at 10am Saturday morning,’ noted processing information, concluding the final procedures required ahead of rollover.

Scheduled for 8am, but delayed to around midday, the weather, forecast for the area on Sunday delayed rollover by around four hours, before first motion at 12:26pm.

‘Roll to the VAB set for 08:00 Sunday (local time). Orbiter sling lift crew should be on site at 06:00,’ added processing information late Saturday. ‘Orbiter prime lift crew should be on site at 09:00. Call to stations for S0004 in the VAB is set for 07:30 Sunday.’

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Getting to this point in the first place was the result of a superb engineering effort that completed repairs to leaky strut seals on Discovery Right Hand Main Landing Gear (RH MLG).

The schedule initially pointed to rollover being delayed to the end of the month because of the problem, but a team of United Space Alliance and Goodrich engineers completed repairs days ahead of the timeline.

The successful conclusion to the repairs came via follow-up leak tests, ordered to verify the health of the new seals on the strut. Engineers reported that the diaper placed around the strut appeared to be completely clean during pressurization cycles, as opposed the red streak of hydraulic fluid that had leaked on to the cloth when the old seals started to leak, as seen on pre-repair images of the landing gear.

The successful leak tests allowed operations to proceed, with the lowering of Discovery on to the OTS, completed by Saturday evening.

Discovery heads to the VAB with just one day of contingency remaining in the schedule for an October 23 launch – though this target is still very much achievable. While the window reaches out into November, the importance of keeping Discovery’s flow on target also relates to the next mission due to launch from the Kennedy Space Center, STS-122.

Stacking of the STS-122 boosters began this weekend, thanks to a plan drawn out by shuttle managers that accelerated work on the High Bay 3 doors, thus allowing the stacking operation to start next door to Discovery’s mating in High Bay 1. Had STS-122’s booster stacking been delayed until Discovery was on her way to the pad, STS-122 would have pushed out of its early December launch window.

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Such is the tight timeline for STS-122 preparations, any impacts to Discovery’s flow may be directly passed on to Atlantis’ preparations – something that is undesirable, due to the short seven day launch window for STS-122 in December.

This was pre-empted by shuttle manager Wayne Hale, when STS-120 looked like it was going to suffer a considerable delay due to the problem with the landing gear.

‘ISS scrubbed work on orbit that drives time between STS-120 and STS-122,’ noted Hale in processing information. ‘Any delays to STS-120 are probably on day-for-day slip for STS-122. This is not desirable, and we run out of beta window about December 13.

‘(Mr. Hale) advises not to make travel plans for end of year holidays, as we could have a launch immediately after New Year. Will see how this works out.’

However, given that Hale was speaking before the early completion of the repair work to Discovery’s RH MLG, STS-122 remains solid for its early December launch target, as does STS-120, with a rollout to Pad 39A in one week’s time allowing a viable shot at being ready for the opening of the launch window on October 23.

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