STS-126 is the latest mission to have been put through the FDRD (Flight Definition and Requirements Document) process, baselining expansive mission objectives and processing flow requirements.
Endeavour is multi-tasked with STS-326 rescue support for STS-124, will also be the last shuttle to sit on launch pad 39B as STS-400 – the rescue support for STS-125’s Hubble mission – and will be the heaviest logistics flight ever, STS-126, carrying supplies – including a new six-crew Galley – to the ISS.
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Currently targeting a launch window that opens September 18, 2008, Endeavour’s processing flow will target rollout for early July, in preparation for the first of three roles.
Her first role is in LON (Launch On Need) support of Discovery, the rescue requirement in case STS-124 gets into major trouble on orbit. STS-326’s required launch date is currently July 13 – three months after Discovery is due to launch.
Endeavour’s second role is the most unique, and part of what will be normal processing timelines, despite it not being for her primary mission.
LON-400 is the rescue support for Atlantis’ STS-125 – the final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. STS-125 is the only remaining mission on the shuttle manifest to be without the standard ‘safe haven’ of the International Space Station (ISS), meaning any major problems on orbit would see the STS-125 crew having to either carry out a repair, or turn Atlantis into a lifeboat until Endeavour arrives.
Because an orbiter can only survive on orbit for around three weeks, normal LON timelines don’t apply, meaning Endeavour needs to be sat on Pad 39B at the same time as Atlantis launches from Pad 39A, where she will remain until Atlantis is ready to safely return to Earth.
While a ‘P-t-P’ (Pad to Pad) option was available, the turnaround was too tight to be viable, leading to NASA deciding to hold back the full handover date of Pad 39B to Constellation until after the stand-down was given during STS-125. Previously, Constellation were set to get their hands on 39B on April 1, 2007.
As outlined in presentations, the plan is for the LON orbiter (Endeavour) to rollover to High Bay 3 and then out to Pad 39B first. Endeavour would sit on the pad while Atlantis was stacked in the opposite High Bay, for rollout two weeks after Endeavour makes the trip to 39B.
After the stand-down of the LON requirement is given during STS-125, Endeavour would then be transported from Pad B to Pad A and prepared for her primary mission, STS-126.
‘This OV-105 (Endeavour) mission will have three different mission designations: STS-326 is the ISS LON rescue mission for STS-124(1J) – STS-124 launch: 4/24/08. STS-326 launch: 7/13/08. STS-400 is the HST LON rescue mission until release after STS-125 launches and TPS is cleared,’ as listed – now officially – in the FDRD presentation.
‘STS-400 OPF Rollover: 07/07/08. STS-400 to Pad B: 07/14/08. STS-125 launch: 8/07/08. STS-400 launch: 8/14/07. STS-126 is ISS-ULF2, the first ISS logistics flight since STS-118. STS-126 to Pad A: 8/25/08 (assume STS-400 release by 8/19/08). STS-126 launch: 9/18/08.’
If a rescue was required, Endeavour – with a reduced crew of four – would launch one week after Atlantis. Endeavour would arrive at the stricken Atlantis, before Atlantis grappled on to Endeavour via her robotic arm. Endeavour’s robotic arm would be used to help transfer the crew via the two orbiters.
A full day’s worth of EVAs would take place, transporting the seven crew members of the STS-125 to Endeavour, before ungrappling Atlantis ahead of the return home.
Depending on the severity of Atlantis’ damage, NASA would make a decision on whether to take the option of trying to bring her home unmanned (via the RCO option), or seal her fate via a controlled, destructive, tail first re-entry.
However, such scenarios are deemed extremely unlikely, especially with the array of on orbit repair capabilities that will fly with Atlantis to Hubble, even if there was a serious damage event that warranted repair.
Despite the unique elements of Endeavour’s supporting role for STS-125, her primary mission – STS-126 – doesn’t lack its own charms, highlighted by the heaviest Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) ever to fly on the shuttle.
In fact, MPLM ‘Leonardo’ will be packed full, for the first time ever, providing a vital haul of equipment for the expanding International Space Station.
‘First flight with all 16 MPLM racks; heaviest MPLM to date,’ noted the presentation, before listing its contents, making up a staggering 27585 lbs of payload, which includes: ‘Nine racks are transfer to ISS, two racks are transferred into MPLM for return.
‘Regenerative ECLSS, 6-crew habitability racks/up. three crew quarters, Treadmill-2 (T2) and T2 Outfitting, Galley h/w (packed in the EXPRESS Rack-6), Water Recovery System (WRS)1, WRS2, WRS 1 and 2 Outfitting, Waste and Hygiene Compartment (WHC).
While three powered payloads will also fly in Endeavour’s middeck – to be decided – several picosatellites will also be carried on the sidewall of the orbiter’s payload bay. These picosatellites are designed to test solar cells in space environments, and will be deployed shortly after Endeavour undocks with the ISS.
‘Picosatellites are ejected after ISS undock using a Non-Explosive Actuator (NEA) via spring force, they are attached to PLB sidewall using the Adaptive Payload Carrier (APC),’ added the presentation. ‘Deployment command/telemetry provided by crew via standard switch panel. Unused space being used to study micro satellite propulsion with solid rocket motors via ground command and tracked by radar.’
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It’ll be a packed 16 day mission for STS-126, with four EVAs, and the potential of a fifth – thanks to the successful debuting of Endeavour Station-to-Shuttle Power Transfer System (SSPTS).
Although omitted on the latest manifest, STS-126 is documented as carrying out an Expedition 17 crew rotation, with JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata taking up residence on the ISS after launching with Endeavour, replacing Sandra Magnus – who will return home with Endeavour.
However, due to major re-evaluations to the shuttle manifest, changes are awaiting approval this week (article soon), and this crew rotation has not yet been aligned on the manifest, thus subject to possible changes.
A selection of the numerous STS-126’s mission objectives are listed below:
‘Berth MPLM to ISS Node 2 Nadir Port. Rotate One ISS Expedition crewmember (pending). Transfer MPLM/Middeck cargo and racks. Return MPLM to Payload Bay. Transfer FHRC to ESP-3, NTA to LMC. Relocate P6 Power Data Grapple Fixture (PDGF) to Functional Cargo Block (FGB).
‘Relocate Two Crew Equipment Translation Aids (CETA) carts to Mobile Transporter (MT) Port. Install the Video Signal Converter (VSC) unit, thermal cover and cables on FGB. Includes routing fiber optic cable from FGB to LAB. Transfer O2, N2 (if consumables allow)
‘EVA Tasks to support ISS future flights, payloads and maintenance activities. JAXA Prox GPS antenna installation on ELM-PS.’
Also listed is the ‘Tile-Repair Ablator Dispenser (T-RAD) EVA demonstration,’ which gained a mention during STS-118’s Mission Management Team (MMT) deliberations on the decision not to repair the damage on Endeavour’s belly.
The decision – which was justified by no damage being sustained by the orbiter – included the lack of T-Rad on orbit certification. Despite the confidence in the system, STS-126’s testing will satisfy this requirement for seeing how it performs in space.
STS-126 is currently six missions away in the current manifest.
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