Looking downstream – STS-128 and STS-127 gain opening templates

by Chris Bergin

With all three orbiters at various stages of pre-launch processing, shuttle managers are already planning their downstream missions, with opening plans being ‘turned on’ for STS-127 and STS-128.

The fleet is in great shape heading into the first of three more missions this year, with the only critical path item relating to External Tank delivery dates – which remains under pressure following a two week hit to ET-130 production being noted this week.

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Atlantis’ new mission – the first of two reassigned flights following her stay of execution from the previously planned 2008 retirement – sees her carrying out a logistics run to the International Space Station (ISS). STS-128 is currently targeting a NET (No Earlier Than) July 16, 2009 launch date.

Atlantis’ primary payload will be the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) ‘Donatello’ – which will boost the ISS’ capability to deal with the increased crew of six astronauts.

The 14 day mission will also carry out the final crew rotation ever to be conducted by a shuttle, should the 2010 retirement date hold.

Currently, Atlantis is scheduled to transport NASA astronaut Nicole Stott to the ISS for her role on Expedition 19, while returning US Army Colonel Timothy Kopra from his stay on the Station. Stott will return on a Russian Soyuz.

JSC’s Flight Ops & Integration department opened the first notes on this mission, as planning takes hold ahead of the 2009 flight. Notes of interest include an opening baseline of two EVAs – with three initially planned – and Atlantis’ debut of a new flight software rev.

‘Had template selection meeting for STS-128. Will be first flight of OI-34, OV-104 (Atlantis) with an MPLM with 16 racks,’ noted the information. ‘Because flight is so full, only baselining two EVAs. Also, baselined an 18 week template with two EVAs and not a very large amount of robotics work.’

Atlantis’ new software isn’t the next planned rev, with STS-126 with Endeavour debuting (Operational Increment) OI-33 later this year. OI-32 – the current software set – first flew with Discovery on STS-120.

These periodic improvements to the orbiter software are required, so as to allow the flight software development team to continually work on improving the orbiter’s capabilities, along with the eradication of real-time software anomalies.

Atlantis’ other reassigned flight is STS-131 in January, 2010 – which is another logistics mission.


Preceding Atlantis’ mission will be STS-127, currently targeting a launch date of April 23, 2009 – eight days after Ares I-X is currently due to lift-off from the next door 39B launch pad.

Endeavour is tasked with delivering the final component of the Japanese Experiment Module, the Exposed Facility (EF) on a long duration, five EVA-strong mission. Around eight elements are flying in Endeavour’s payload.

‘At the FOICB (Flight Operations & Integration Control Board), have the STS-127 baseline,’ noted information this week. ‘Fifteen +1 mission with five EVAs. This was the flight that was turned on with a CR (Change Request) around a month ago ‘

The mission already has its crew assigned, placing Mark Polansky in command of the mission that will carry Kopra to the ISS, whilst returning JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata back to Earth, following his stint on Expedition 18.

One of the noted payload elements is DRAGONSat, which is the name of a collective mission payload that will involve student-built satellite called AggieSat2, currently undergoing testing at the AggieSat Lab, in conjunction with the University of Texas at Austin.

The project will see the development of a series of four pairs of satellites for the Johnson Space Center’s Low earth Orbiting Navigation Experiment for Spacecraft Testing Autonomous Rendezvous and docking program.

‘The LONESTAR program is scheduled to be an eight year program, with the final (4th) pair of satellites in this series (LONESTAR 4) demonstrating Autonomous Rendezvous and Docking capabilities,’ noted information on the project.

‘The first three satellite pairs (LONESTAR 1-3) will demonstrate technologies required to attain the demonstration. This means the first three satellites will be required to test the sensors, computers, navigation system, control system, communications system, GPS, etc., that will need to fly on Mission 4.

“AggieSat2 will be one of two satellites developed for LONESTAR 1, and its mission will be to test the crosslink communications system and GPS system necessary to accomplish the ARD demonstration. The other satellite of the pair will be named PARADIGM, and it will be designed at the University of Texas.

“Collectively, these satellites will be known as the DRAGONSat mission. Each of the two satellites will have identical capabilities, but will not necessarily be identical in design.”

AggieSat2 is a picosatellite, and it will have several essential mission requirements. Primarily, AggieSat2 will serve as a bus for a NASA provided global positioning system.

“After deployment from the picosat launcher which is mounted in the Space Shuttle Orbiter’s cargo bay (STS-127), AggieSat2 will separate from PARADIGM and ready itself for two complete orbits around the Earth. During these orbits, AggieSat2 will independently record and downlink 180 minutes of raw GPS data.

The satellite is due to arrive at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in the summer.

Current Orbiter Flow Status:

Meanwhile, all is well with Discovery, as she continues to wait for rollover to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at 7am local time on Saturday morning. The early rollover will allow for a scheduled rollout on May 3 to Pad 39A ahead of May 31’s launch date for STS-124.

“The orbiter was transferred to the Orbiter Transport System (OTS) yesterday in preparation for rollover to the VAB; rollover is scheduled for Saturday, April 26,” noted the latest processing report. “Platforms will be pulled on Friday.”

Atlantis is also continuing her processing flow towards STS-125’s Hubble Servicing Mission. Aft flight deck reconfiguration was completed earlier this week, while servicing of Freon coolant Loop 2 continues as a result of the radiator retract hose replacement.

“Preps were completed supporting Freon coolant loop 2 servicing; servicing was not worked Monday night – on hold for freon servicing cart,” added processing flow information. “Work was scheduled to complete by Thursday, April 24.”

Preparations for the start of booster stacking for STS-125 is building up, with the final STS-125 booster delivery of the right forward segment scheduled for next Monday.

“All segments stored in Surge 2 and are ready to support stacking in the VAB; stacking is currently scheduled to begin May 8.”

Endeavour’s processing highlight this week will be the removal and replacement of her Fuel Cell 1, while OMS (Orbital Maneuvering System) functionally will be checked out on Thursday.

“Fuel cell 1 R&R work started Monday and is scheduled to complete on 2nd shift Tuesday,” confirmed processing information, before noting an IPR (Interim Problem Reports) that was ably resolved by the engineers working inside Endeavour’s OPF (Orbiter Processing Facility).

“During Aft Propulsion System pod functional, team was unable to verify reseat pressure on a Left Reaction Control System fuel helium relief valve. Team retorqued and leak checked the GSE (Ground Support Equipment) flexhose QD (Quick Disconnect) fittings.

“The subsequent crack and reseat test was successful. The team resumed Aft Propulsion System (APS) functional.”

External Tank Latest:

All hands continue to be at the pumps at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF), as work continues on the two delayed tanks, both required for STS-125 and (Launch On Need) LON-400.

MAF are around one week away from reporting to shuttle managers on the latest projected delivery dates for the two tanks, so as to aid the manifest realignment process.

“ET-127: Nose Cone fit check is completed. The aft LOX feedline station is installed. A couple of IFR (Ice Frost Ramp) pours are in work. Completed the aft manhole covers sprays,” noted Lockheed Martin/MAF on the status of the tanks. “Completed longeron sprays, and trims are in process.

“ET-129: Completed a couple of IFR base sprays. Aft hardware cleanup completed. The particle scrubs have been installed. Next steps are bipod alignment and putting cross beam assembly up.”

However, a problem has been spotted on ET-130, which will ride uphill with Discovery during STS-119. The issue – noted as cracks on the tank – is expected to be a two week schedule hit.

“ET-130: Working the final trim out of the LOX intertank flange. Identified a couple of rollover-type cracks. In process of removing those. Should take around two weeks to recover.”

However, given the refined flight manifest launch dates, which sees STS-119 being moved to February, 2009, the hit on the tank’s processing schedule is not expected to be of any concern at this time.

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