PRCB plan STS-122 for NET Feb 7 – three launches in 10-11 weeks

by Chris Bergin

Thursday’s Program Requirements Control Board (PRCB) meeting has concluded with a decision on a forward plan that will allow for three missions in the space of around 10 weeks.

Managers discussed the current status of testing on the external LH2 Feed-through connector troubleshooting, and decided against conducting a tanking test ahead of the launch of STS-122, which is now tracking a NET (No Earlier Than) February 7 launch date.

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L2: STS-122 to STS-127 documentation already available.

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Launch Date Latest: 

Schedules from today’s meeting showed that February 2 remained the NET date for the launch of STS-122, as testing and installation plans remained on track. However, the conflict with the launch of a Russian cargo ship has re-aligned STS-122 to February 7.

To allow STS-122 to launch on February 2, the Russians would have had to move the launch of Progress M-63 to either the end of January or the middle of February – after Atlantis had landed after her mission.

Following discussions on Thursday, the Russians will launch Progress M-63 on February 5, allowing Atlantis to launch on February 7 or 8 – should the installation effort proceed as advertised.

Looking further into the schedule, managers received launch date targets that shows the launch of STS-123/Endeavour on March 11 – though this is likely to move to March 17, and STS-124 April 24. The rest of the schedule for 2008 is expected to fall back into place as previously manifested.

ET-125 R&R Latest:

Engineers are very close to installing the replacement external LH2 Feed-through connector into ET-125, and will take place over the weekend – with most of the pre-installation testing complete.

‘Soldering completed. IR and DW on the connector completed. Lightning Checks completed. Pressure and Leak Check to 100 psi completed. Glass inspections Completed. Moisture Proofing Completed,’ noted one PRCB presentation.

‘Analysis of the CTE predictions indicates a possible design issue for excess loading put on the glass. Socket shoulder to the teflon insert could be imparting load during cryo and flight through the pins into the Crit 1 glass.

‘NDE of the ET-125 new part in work to provide positive verification of required gapping. Results will dictate acceptable use or a possible design fix.’

Post-testing presentations on the new issue of ‘glass cracks’ have noted favorable results, adding confidence that LH2 won’t leak past the glass – which was the concern.

‘No Indications of leakage past the glass. Visual Inspection of the glass completed. No increase in the glass cracks,’ noted presentations on the opening results of ongoing testing at MSFC and MAF (Michoud Assembly Facility).

‘Pressure Checked the old ET-125 hardware completed – GHe up to 95 psi, LHe up to 95 psi. Small leak seen around he K-Seal (not related to the glass). Leak attributed to the reuse of the K-Seal and the configuration GHe up to 95 psi.’

More testing is scheduled, as engineers aim to ensure their fix won’t cause any additional problems, post-installation. The process of changeout with the replacement connector (with soldered wires/pins) is also being carried out on ET-126 – which will fly with STS-123/Endeavour – inside the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building).

‘Interim Design fix hardware almost ready. Testing at MSFC continues – LH2 runs expected Thursday. Glass investigation continues in parallel with installation,’ added PRCB presentations.

‘Foam Removal on ET-126 in work. Foam Removal around J-Box complete. J-Box foam removal in work. Will Mate ET-126 this week to preserve schedule. Connector Removal and Interim Design Fix hardware will be installed in the Integration Cell. Foam closeouts to follow through the STS-123 Pad flow.’

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Tanking Test:

The official decision on whether to carry out a tanking test is scheduled for later in the month. However, two PRCB presentations, one of which came from Lockheed Martin – who construct the tanks – recommended this action should not be added to the pad flow.

The rationale against carrying out a tanking test worked on the basis of ensuring the foam insulation on the tank isn’t put through an additional cryo cycle, which can cause the foam to crack.

‘Assess the value of performing another tanking test prior to STS-122 launch,’ noted the Lockheed Martin presentation. ‘Approach: Assessed pros and cons of performing tanking test

‘Pro: Allows early system verification prior to launch attempt. Con: Additional pressure cycles on TPS. Potential for additional TPS cracks. Ice / Debris Inspection Criteria to be used for acceptance criteria of observed conditions.

‘Assessment Results: STS-122 tanking test not required. Redesigned ECO system connector qualification and acceptance tests developed to verify effectiveness of redesign prior to installation. Qualification test simulates prelaunch and ascent environments and functions. Post installation checks verify ambient condition electrical checks.’

‘Tanking test not required – Redesign will be certified for flight with no verification requirements associated with a tanking test,’ backed up a NASA presentation to the PRCB. ‘No additional data are required for flight rationale. Prevents additional cryo cycle on ET prior to STS-122.

‘The only value in performing a tanking test would be in the event the failure recurs. Drag on instrumentation would be available for additional data and troubleshooting.’

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