STS-125’s tank arrives – manifest meeting evaluates Ares I-X and ISS supplies

by Chris Bergin

The replacement tank for Atlantis’ mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope has arrived at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). ET-130 replaces ET-127 – now flying with Discovery in February – following the delay to STS-125. A manifest meeting has already taken place, which has been tasked with finding solutions to Ares I-X’s place in the 2009 schedule and pressure by a potential food shortage on the ISS.

ET-130 will be hoping to follow closely in the tanksteps of ET-129, which is being classed as the best performing tank since the major Return To Flight modifications were carried out on the ETs to reduce foam liberation during ascent.

ET-129 only liberated three tiny areas of foam during the entire ride to MECO (Main Engine Cut Off), a source of much praise from shuttle managers to the Lockheed Martin Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) workforce, who are the unsung heroes of RTF.

ET-130’s arrival on dock was slightly delayed by high winds in the KSC area, with processing information noting that it won’t be offloaded and sent to High Bay 2E’s checkout cell until Friday.

“ET-130 and Pegasus barge arrived at the VAB Turn Basin yesterday,” noted Thursday processing information. “Offload will occur today and lift to HB 2E is scheduled for Friday.”

Atlantis, currently undergoing some reworking on a few areas of her TPS (Thermal Protection System) and repairs on several of her cold plates, is waiting patiently to rollover – once again – to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for stacking, this time with ET-130.

The previous launch target, back in October, was delayed due to a fault on the HST, along with issues with the replacement hardware Atlantis is tasked with carrying to the aging space telescope.

Currently, STS-125 is tracking a May 12 launch, and at present the replacement hardware is expected at KSC in time to support that date. However, its affect on the downstream manifest, and notably Ares I-X, is continuing to give managers headaches over the upcoming schedule of five shuttle flights in 2009 and the test flight of Ares I-X.

Notably, managers have to consider the next scheduled flight after Atlantis – STS-127 mission to complete Kibo with Endeavour – which will be the LON (Launch On Need) STS-400 shuttle, should STS-125 remain on track for May, along with keeping STS-127 on track for May, should there be another delay to STS-125. Managers then need to work out if they can aid Ares I-X’s launch date.

“We are back to protecting for both STS-125/HST and STS-127/2JA in May,” noted minutes from a manifest meeting on Wednesday. “There is still open work associated with making the decision on single pad versus dual pad ops.”

Dual pad ops is the current plan for STS-125’s rescue mission. This is because the Hubble mission is without the “Safe Haven” of the International Space Station (ISS), thus any serious problems with Atlantis would result in a launch – within days – of Endeavour, before a rendezvous on orbit to transfer the crew from the stricken orbiter.

As seen before STS-125 was delayed, Atlantis took up residence on Pad 39A, with Endeavour – as the STS-400 rescue vehicle – rolling to Pad 39B. A previous “p-t-p” (Pad to Pad) option was considered months ahead of STS-125, but deemed too tight on the pad flow milestones to process Pad 39A post launch to allow the rescue orbiter to roll on to the pad in time.

However, Thursday’s all-powerful Program Requirements Control Board (PRCB) meeting is re-assessing plans to allow this to take place, which in turn would free Pad 39B to be modified for the delayed Ares I-X test flight – and hopefully allow the four segment test rocket to launch in July, rather than the threatened date of October, 09.

“The PRCB CR (Change Request) with STS-125/HST on 5/12, STS-127/2JA on 5/15, and STS-400 on 5/19 will be approved tomorrow based on dual pad ops,” added notes from the manifest meeting.

“If the decision is then made that single pad ops are acceptable so that Launch Pad B can be given to Ares to support Ares 1-X in July, (some) launch dates will be adjusted a few weeks to the right.

“The decision on single versus dual pad ops is expected by Jan 23rd. The decision on STS-125/HST or STS-127/2JA in May is expected in February (there was no push back on our decision need date).”

By the very nature of the pending confirmation of STS-125’s launch date, and STS-127’s role as LON STS-400, the rest of the 2009 schedule continues to remain fluid – more so, when considering several other mitigation efforts that are being carried out in parallel.

Again relating to STS-127, which is likely heading to mid June, managers considered a mission swap with STS-128, before opting to keep the missions in their current order on the manifest.

However, concerns of a projected food shortage on the ISS, when it becomes a six crew outpost next year – should there by a delay in either or both shuttle and the Japanese debut of its HTV – resulted in Station managers requesting help in finding ways to boost the ISS’ supplies.

One option included the advancement of STS-128 with Discovery – as her payload will include the MPLM Leonardo, which would have allowed the module to be packed with food supplies, thus solving the potential shortfall.

Shuttle managers were ready to support the ISS’ request, until an apparent breakthrough was reached with the Russians, who appear willing to provide contingency food upmass on the next Progress flight.

“Once again, excellent work by all to ensure all the trades/risks were considered to make the best possible decision regarding the manifest,” added meeting notes on Wednesday. “Even though all organizations reported that they could support the swap of 127/2JA and 128/17A, the decision was made to leave them in the current order.

“This decision was based on the impacts to 17A, 2JA, and HTV associated with the swap and additional work by ISSP to mitigate the food situation. They will be adding food to the 2JA manifest and will be working with the Russians to utilize Russian food if 17A is delayed and HTV is either delayed or unsuccessful.”

Had the decision been in favor of swapping the missions, STS-128 would have been moved to July on Endeavour, with STS-127 heading to early September on Discovery.

A third factor is also being taken into account with the downstream manifest, which mainly relates to crew assignments. Plans – on L2 – show several crew assignments potentially swapping and removed from flights (names restricted to L2 at this time), all mainly in relation to both an on time and a delayed HTV arrival at the Station, and any subsequent changes to the shuttle manifest – this time relating to STS-129 and STS-131.

“To be able to handle an HTV failure, talking about moving 19A/131 (MPLM) up in place of ULF3/129 (2 ELC),” noted ISS meeting notes – which are being evaluated. “Also, since if HTV makes it, they will offload food in the 19A MPLM, ISSP strongly wants SSP to have 2J/A as early in Sept as possible so that HTV might possibly be able to be launched in Sept vs slipping to Nov or later.”

The STS-129 mission will deliver the first two of five Express Logistics Carriers (ELCs) to the ISS, and is currently due to return Canadian Space Agency astronaut – and ISS Expedition 20 Flight Engineer-4 – Robert Thirsk to Earth. This mission will also be re-baselined.

STS-131 – a logistics run to the ISS – will then follow, ahead of two CLF (Contingency Logistic Flight) missions (STS-132, STS-133) which had been scheduled for mid April and late May respectively. These missions were recently covered in the approval of latest Senate Bill.

Click HERE to watch MaxQ’s amazing STS-126 Review Video.

L2 members: All documentation – from which the above article has quoted snippets – is available in full in the related L2 sections, now over 4000 gbs in size.

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