NASA managers slip all launch dates in 2009 and 2010

by Chris Bergin

The SSP (Space Shuttle Program) have officially refined the launch dates for all their missions in 2009 and 2010 – based mainly around the fallout to the previous delay of STS-125 and the long-term External Tank delivery schedule.

Some of the new dates take advantage of a release to the constraint of allowing the orbiter to be docked during the arrival of the Russian Soyuz – which is still being evaluated.

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Manifest Changes:

As exclusively revealed by this site back in April, STS-125’s move to October 8 – and the subsequent slip of STS-126 to November 10 – immediately moved STS-119 to February 12, 2009, though the latter was only made official in the manifest on Monday.

Discovery’s STS-119 flight recently gained its opening planning documentation, created for the mission that will carry the final truss element (S6) to the International Space Station (ISS).

The expansive mission baseline includes documentation on the deferred Boundary Layer Transition (BLT) experiment that was originally scheduled for STS-126, plus a special Thrust Oscillation test – designed to provide valuable launch vibration data for Ares I.

With STS-119’s slip from December, 08 to February, 09 now confirmed, the program refined the remaining manifest to align with the required spacing between missions.

‘The Shuttle Program has released a manifest CR (Change Request) to update launch dates for STS-119/15A, STS-127/2JA, and STS-128/17A and have an updated manifest to reflect planning dates for the rest of the program,’ noted documentation acquired by L2.

‘External Tank delivery dates are still the long pole but they are hopeful they will be able to meet the schedule.’

Endeavour’s STS-127 mission will complete assembly of the Kibo Laboratory complex, and has now been moved from April 23, 09 to May 21.

Endeavour will launch with a complex array of payloads that will require a 15 day mission with five baselined EVAs. Aside from installing the Japanese Experiment Module – Exposed Facility (JEM-EF), Endeavour’s crew will be tasked with replacing six batteries on the P6 truss.

STS-128 – now flying with Atlantis following her release from a 2008 retirement – is a logistics run to the ISS that has a new launch date of July 30, which is only a slip of a couple of weeks.

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. 

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.

‘STS-128/17A was baselined with a 7/30/09 launch date, consistent with the manifest CR,’ added documentation. ‘STS-128 is on OV-104 (Atlantis), which does not have SSPTS (Station-To-Shuttle Power Transfer System) so the baselined mission duration is 11+1+2 with two planned EVAs.

‘The cargo bay complement includes an MPLM and an Ammonia Tank Assembly (ATA) installed on a Lightweight MPESS Carrier (LMC). The TriDAR Automated Rendezvous and Docking Sensor DTO-701A is also planned for STS-128.

‘The depleted ATA and the external ESA payload, European Technology Exposure Facility (EuTEF), installed during STS-122/1E, will return on the LMC and two Materials on International Space Station (MISSE) carriers (6a and 6b) will return on a sidewall carrier.’

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The documentation also noted the evaluations that are considering leaving Donatello on the ISS – though this is currently not been decided.

‘ISS is considering whether they want to leave the MPLM on orbit but the current baseline has it returning. This flight is planned to be the first flight of the OI-34 software and the last flight to launch a rotating ISS crewmember.’

The manifest realignment also brought up an interesting element of flexibility, which references the evaluations into allowing launch dates that would see an orbiter docked to the ISS at the same time a Soyuz docks.

Known as Soyuz ‘cutouts’ – it is currently a constraint for orbiters, due to the potential of a Soyuz auto-abort during approach, when the Russian vehicle’s Kurs docking system fails to see the docked orbiter – thus becoming a potential collision threat.

‘You’ll note launch dates during what previously have been considered Soyuz ‘cutouts’, added the documentation. ‘For example, STS-127/2JA is scheduled to launch on 5/21/09 and Soyuz is scheduled to dock on 5/27/09.

‘The SSP has requested that the ISS and MOD (Mission Operations Directive) reassess Soyuz dockings and undockings while the Shuttle is docked to improve Shuttle launch flexibility.

‘The GJOP (Generic Joint Operations Panel) has been asked to review previous assessments, identify what assumptions are now different, and determine whether it makes sense to plan for a Soyuz docking or undocking during a Shuttle mission.’

The re-evaluation has been called due to the expansion of the ISS, which has increased the distance between the docking ports of Soyuz and Shuttle at either ‘end’ of the Station. If the evaluations recommend the constraint remains in place, the launch dates will be again refined.

‘The thought process is that the answer may be different now that the Shuttle and Soyuz docking ports are farther away and ISS will be doing ‘indirect handovers’ – new crew coming up on Soyuz will be with three of the previous crew for an extended duration rather than the current short term intense handover period.’

Realigning with the new manifest are the remaining five missions in the latter half of 2009 and the 2010 finale.

STS-129 slips to October 15, 09. The mission will see Discovery carrying the EXPRESS Logistics Carriers ELC1 and ELC2, and will involve a crew rotation of Expedition 20’s Robert Thirsk with his replacement, Jeff Williams – although long-term schedules show Williams as riding on a Soyuz.

STS-130 slips six weeks to December 10, 2009. Endeavour is carrying the final major element of the ISS in Node 3, along with the ESA-built observatory module Cupola.

Three missions are currently scheduled for 2010, opening with Atlantis’ second mission to be added since her stay of execution – STS-131 – which is a logistics run to the ISS.

Atlantis’ mission – which has moved to February 11, 2010, involves the final flight of a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, namely Raffaello. No mention of its potential stay on the ISS has been made at this time.

The two remaining missions – at present – for the shuttle program are the CLF (Contingency Logistic Flight) missions, tasked to Discovery and Endeavour.

Changes to these two missions see STS-132 move to April 8, 2010, while the finale to the program has been moved to the right by one month, as Endeavour flies to the ISS on May 31, 2010.

Officially removed from the long-term manifest are the specific Launch On Need (LON) requirements. The rescue capability remains throughout the remainder of the program, but instead of requiring a specific flow in the event of an emergency, the following launch date will be close enough to carry out the contingency.

‘Note that the new Launch on Need approach is to use the next flight with the planned cargo complement to rescue the previous flight if necessary (i.e. concept of STS-3xx’s is going away).’

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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