Ares I-X delayed – Atlantis rollover to VAB completed ahead of dual pad option

by Chris Bergin

The Constellation Program (CxP) test flight, Ares I-X, has slipped three weeks to a NET (No Earlier Than) July 31 – with the potential for more delays – on the latest planning documents, as the Space Shuttle Program (SSP) prepare to announce the dual use of Pads 39A and 39B for their STS-125 and STS-400 Hubble Servicing Mission requirement. Monday morning is also saw Atlantis complete her rollover to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) ahead of STS-125.

Ares I-X:

The delay to Ares I-X is not believed to have been caused by SSP’s “wish” to utilize Pad 39B for accommodating Endeavour as the STS-400 LON (Launch On Need) rescue support for Atlantis, but rather a continued fallout from a lack of funds within the Constellation Program, sources note. As a result, Ares I-X may yet be delayed further.

Memos ahead of the decision had referenced that the Single Pad option would be largely determined by Ares I-X being ready to launch “on time” – which was previously slated for July 11 – as a data point for the evaluations. Media materials associated with the mission recently changed their launch date from July to “the summer”.

Ares I-X’s final hardware has been arriving from Utah, and processing has been proceeding to plan, as the test vehicle segments are built-up via flows called “super stacks” inside the VAB’s High Bay 4.  It is not known how many issues remains with Ares I-X, following its negative Critical Design Review (CDR) last year.

Ground testing will also take place at Pad 39B on March 25, when MLP-1 (Mobile Launch Platform) heads over from Pad 39A. STS-119 represented the last use of the MLP-1 for the SSP. A brief ceremony and turnover to the Ares I-X team will take place at the foot of Pad B next week.

STS-400/Dual Pad:

However, the ‘release’ of Ares I-X placing demands on Pad 39B for the short-term future surrounding STS-125 will result in Endeavour taking up residence as the STS-400 Launch On Need (LON) rescue support for Atlantis’ STS-125.

It is understood that NASA plan to officially announce the decision to use both pads for STS-125 and STS-400 at the conclusion to STS-119.

As seen before the previous delay to the STS-125 mission, Endeavour was rolled on to Pad 39B, for the contingency of launching within days of a serious problem with Atlantis on orbit.

a218This is required due to the unique nature of a Hubble servicing mission, where Atlantis will be unable to provide her crew with the “safe haven” of the International Space Station (ISS).

Instead, Atlantis would undergo a level of powerdowns, and become a lifeboat for her crew, prior to the launch of Endeavour with a four crew subset – which would head to rendezvous with Atlantis, where the two orbiters would grapple via their robotic arms, prior to a transfer of the STS-125 crew to the rescue orbiter.

One open question related to the lightning mast that has since been removed from the top of Pad 39B’s Fixed Service Structure (FSS).

However, engineers responsible for the construction of the 600 ft tall towers for Ares I have created a plan where two of the towers (1 and 2) will ably protect Endeavour. The wiring has already been “strung” between the two towers.

Ares I Schedule/Shuttle Extension:

When those towers are used to protect Ares I on the pad remains unknown, with the projected debut launch date for the new vehicle at the mercy of downstream funding.

Unless there continues to be a gutting of the test schedule for the Ares I vehicle, the FOC (Full Operational Capability) date – otherwise know as Orion 4 and the first crew rotation mission to the International Space Station (ISS) – is threatening to slip on upcoming PMRs (Program Milestone Reviews), with a worst case scenario of 2017.

While downstream schedules are fluid, and will be ultimately based on the potential of additional funds being made available to NASA for either an ‘advancement’ of the Constellation schedule, or for a shuttle extension past 2010, Ares/Orion schedules have already slipped over 18 months since conception on their own accord, mainly via technical challenges associated with Ares I.

Shuttle extension itself was claimed to be dead in the water last month, following a fiscal 2010 NASA budget outline released by the Obama Administration. This even led to shuttle manager John Shannon noting extension efforts were to stop on a Shuttle Stand-up/Integration report soon after.

However, such statements have since been retracted, following high level intervention to emphasis the outline was not a policy statement, and as such NASA should continue to protect shuttle extension ability past the end of April, ahead of an ultimate decision this summer.

a312That protection has filtered down into the related areas of the shuttle community, with the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) releasing ET-122 for use as the LON tank for STS-134 – which is awaiting funding to carry the AMS to the ISS.

ET-122 – as seen for the first time in the latest FAWG (Flight Assignment Working Group) manifest – has been allocated to STS-135, with Atlantis, as LON support for STS-134. This assignment fills the entire 2010 schedule.

STS-135 also provides a roadmap for extension into at least 2011, with further tanks ready to be produced my MAF, should they receive direction from the SSP.

“ET-138 is the last tank under contract for build,” noted MAF just last week on the Stand-Up report. (ET-122 was already built, but was damaged during hurricane Katrina). “ET-139 will be built, but at this time only the three major components will be assembled – it may be completed at a later date.”

If direction was received to build ET-139, it would provide LON support for STS-135, or become the primary tank for STS-136. Also in pre-emption of a possible extension, MAF have part builds of two more tanks, ET-140 and ET-141 already completed over the last few months.


a62Atlantis was due to rollover at around 7am on Monday to the VAB – pending favorable weather conditions – for her upcoming STS-125 flight to the Hubble Space Telescope.

However, the expected rollover time was postponed for the interim, due to drizzle in the local area. Atlantis finally started to depart the OPF (Orbiter Processing Facility) at around 11:30am local.

Rollover was completed around 45 minutes later, ahead of being placed on the sling that will transport her over to her awaiting ET/SRB stack.

“All vehicle work has been completed. The vehicle is on the OTS (Orbiter Transport System) to support rollover to the VAB on March 23,” noted processing information on L2. “In the VAB, on the ET/SRB stack, we are changing out the 7-inch QD (Quick Disconnect). The goal is to have the QD re-installed prior to orbiter mate on Monday.

“Working toward a roll out to Pad 39A date of March 31. Pad A assessment showed nominal conditions (post STS-119 launch). On the SRB flame trench left wall, there is a small area (2.5 X 5 feet) that will need repair – this is an older section that was not part of the recent refurbishment.”

Despite Atlantis previously been ready past the point of the SSP FRR (Flight Readiness Review) stage, before the mission was postponed due to the on orbit issues with Hubble, managers are still evaluating late changes to minor mission elements for the May 12 launch.

a411“An OPO (Orbiter Project Office) technical tagup was held to discuss a potential hardware addition to STS-125/HST-SM4,” added the latest Shuttle Stand-Up/Integration report on L2. “We are currently flying the IMAX camera in the bay and the hand-held camera in the cabin.

“To get good cabin video, a worklight is needed. There is a COTS light that is flying on ISS currently, but some of the internal wiring does not meet the smart short requirements needed to certify it for Orbiter. On Station, it is only used for 45 minutes at full power, but unlimited time at half-power.

“After reviewing this data, it was deemed safe to fly for the mission. A safety briefing will be brought forward to the community.”

A full review of the mission will start with a second SSP FRR to take place on April 20-21, while the Agency FRR – which will confirm the launch date – is set for April 30.

Less than two weeks after Atlantis arrives at Pad 39A, Endeavour will rollover for mating with the recently combined ET/SRB stack in the VAB. Her rollover date is currently set for April 10.

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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