Atlantis flying to 2010, Hubble slightly delayed – manifest re-aligned

by Chris Bergin

The official decision on the future of Atlantis has finally been made, as she avoids early retirement in 2008 – gaining STS-128 and STS-131 in the process via new planning documentation.

Atlantis’ flagship mission – STS-125’s trip to service the Hubble Space Telescope – has been delayed by one month, to September 5, as the bulk of the manifest moves to the right by around 30 days, due to the slip of STS-122 to February 7.

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New STS Flight Schedule:

As with all schedules, planning documentation is drawn up for the benefit of mapping out processing flows. However, given the delay to STS-122, the re-aligned dates had to be created, mainly due to the requirement of needing two ‘flight ready’ shuttles in time for STS-125’s launch.

The short term schedule, as previously reported, shows the three upcoming flights as Feb 7 (STS-122), March 13 (STS-123) and April 24 (STS-124) – all achievable as the orbiter processing flows continued reasonably unhindered, while STS-122 continues its return from ECO (Engine Cut Off) sensor anomaly troubleshooting.

However, while Atlantis would still be on track to make the previous August date for her mission to Hubble (STS-125), the unique LON (Launch On Need) requirement of having Endeavour sat on Launch Pad 39B as the rescue shuttle, has led to a refinement of the launch dates.

‘Parallel Processing’ of Atlantis and Endeavour is key to STS-125, with Atlantis coming out of post flight processing from STS-122, and Endeavour returning from STS-123 – the latter for a triple requirement of being the LON orbiter for STS-124, the LON orbiter for STS-125, and then prepared for her primary mission of STS-126.

Endeavour’s Hubble rescue mission role will see her rolled out to 39B for the last time a shuttle will sit on that pad, as modifications – some of which have already started – are made ahead of the test flight of Ares I-X in 2009.

Being ready to launch at short notice is required, due to Atlantis’ mission to Hubble being the only flight on the remaining manifest without the ‘safe haven’ of the International Space Station (ISS).

Any critical damage to Atlantis, and Endeavour – along with a four man crew – would be required to carry out a unique on-orbit rescue of the crew, within a maximum of three weeks.

Once stood down from her rescue requirements during STS-125, Endeavour will be rolled over to 39A, to be prepared for STS-126 – itself a key mission for ISS expansion, while also carrying out a special re-entry experiment. This flight is now scheduled for October 16.

STS-119 with Discovery, carrying the S6 integrated truss segment, moves from November 6 to December 4, as NASA managers still aim to pull off six flights in 2008.

‘If launch dates hold up, and I expect most will, we will fly six shuttle flights in CY ’08,’ noted Flight Director Cathy Koerner this week. ‘There’ll be five flights to ISS; four of which will bring new elements and two of those will add new international partners to the mix.

‘Throw in one exciting and challenging repair mission for the Hubble Space Telescope and we have the makings for an amazing year in human spaceflight!’

The delays to these short-term missions should not be seen as negative, especially when taking into account that at one point last year STS-125 was tracking a launch date of September 11.

Atlantis Flying To 2010 – Long-Term Schedule:

Atlantis has been officially saved from an ungraceful retirement of becoming a spare parts donor/bin for her two sisters, as the long-planned extension to her operating lifetime was announced by Orbiter management to their respective engineering teams earlier this month.

The decision, which had to go through NASA HQ and the Space Shuttle Program (SSP) management for approval, has been long in the planning, since this site revealed the drive to reverse the original retirement date, in the middle of last year.

Now, finally, Atlantis’ two extra flights are documented in both planning schedules and processing flow documentation, handing the challenge to ever-capable United Space Alliance (USA) engineers who care for the three ships during processing.

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Once returned from STS-125, she will enjoy an extended stay inside OPF-1 (Orbiter Processing Facility) – as she regains her ODS (Orbiter Docking System) that will be removed for her mission to Hubble, along with the addition of the SSPTS (Station-Shuttle Power Transfer System) modification, allowing Atlantis to carry out extended ISS missions.

Atlantis originally had no choice but to retire in 2008, given she was due for her OMDP (Orbiter Maintenance Down Period) by that time. The overhaul – which can take over a year to complete – would have been deemed pointless, with only another year of shuttle operations to follow her return to flight status.

However, in the middle of last year, engineers devised a priority list of work that was required on Atlantis, creating ‘mini-OMDP’ processing which could be conducted inside the OPF during regular post and pre-flight flows.

Titled the ‘3 year / 8 Flight OMRSD (Operations Maintenance Requirements Specifications Document) Review,’ the option was added to extend orbiter’s flight status in-between OMDPs to eight flights and five and a half years – instead of the previous three years, based on timelines that do not include delays induced by other orbiters ‘getting in the way.’

Ultimately this needed to be approved, as only Endeavour was able to fly until 2010 under the previous definitions, as some elements of the plan are adopted into Discovery’s processing flows. However, the main focus was on Atlantis, in order to find a way to reverse her 2008 retirement.

Immediately after the review, a FAWG (Flight Assignment Working Group) manifest handed two extra missions to Atlantis, before being withdrawn, as official approval was sought via a combination of NASA HQ and SSP – mainly relating to approving additional costs associated with flying three orbiters through to the end of the manifest.

Adding weight to the argument, another presentation was produced in August of last year, refining the OMRSD data, whilst pointing out the importance of flying out the schedule with three orbiters, so as to ensure an on time transition of shuttle resources to Constellation.

The latest manifest shows Atlantis returning with STS-128, which follows Endeavour’s STS-127 flight – which is a refined five EVA mission that has moved to April 23, 2009.

STS-128, targeting July 16, 2009, will see Atlantis return after over eight months inside OPF-1 – taking into account the completion of STS-125 and rollover for STS-128 – before being handed another final honor, as she becomes the last orbiter to carry out a crew rotation with the ISS.

Discovery and Endeavour will then fly out 2009 with STS-129 (moved to September 3) and STS-130 (moved to October 22) respectively, completing a four mission calendar year.

Atlantis then flies her final mission, STS-131, currently moved from 2009, to January 21, 2010 – the first of two optional CLF (Contingency Logistic Flight) missions, sandwiched in-between is Discovery’s final flight, STS-132 (Node 3) – moved to March 18, 2010, with Endeavour’s STS-133 – the second CLF mission, moved to April 29, 2010, ending the manifest.

It should be noted that this is the current plan, created after the slip of STS-122 to NET (No Earlier Than) February 7. However, all subsequent flights are at the mercy of both mission success (any additional post-flight processing) and other factors such as hardware issues, or even the weather.

Currently, the goal is to fly out the remaining missions by April 2010, though this date can be reviewed as the missions are flown, due to the in-built flexibility for unforeseen circumstances.

It is understood that both CLF missions will be flown, so as to aid the ISS after the loss of the shuttle supply line. Further refinements to the manifest will be reported as documentation is acquired.

L2 members: All documentation – from which the above article has quoted snippets – is available in full in the related L2 sections, updated live.

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