STS-129 slips to November 16 after Atlas wins Range battle

by Chris Bergin

Atlantis has been reduced to just one launch attempt – on November 16 – after STS-129 lost the battle for the Eastern Range to two satellite launches from Cape Canaveral. A second launch attempt on November 17 is being negotiated, prior to standing down for a Delta IV launch. The previous opening launch attempt on November 12 was ruled out due to an Atlas V launch two days later.

STS-129 Processing Latest:

Atlantis is patiently waiting for her opportunity to launch to the International Space Station (ISS) by proceeding through the complex operations of her pad flow. All nominal operations on the integrated milestone chart are on schedule – even though four days have since been added to the flow due to the launch date slip.

“Orbiter: OV-104 / ET-133 / SRB / RSRM BI-140 / RSRM 108 (Pad A): PV-11 fill and drain valve actuator removal and replacement was completed Saturday,” confirmed Monday processing information on L2.

“GH2 blank off plate installation was completed Friday and GO2 blank off plate installation was completed Saturday. LOX storage tank replenishment was completed Friday (4 waves of tankers).

“S0024 SRB HPU fuel load was completed on Sunday. HPU cart load is scheduled for today to prepare for transfer to Pad B for Ares I-X HPU load.”

Outside of the nominal pad flow have been evaluations into numerous lightning strikes on the pad last week. An initial meeting by the Engineering Review Board (ERB) found no issues with the pad or shuttle’s electrical systems, though another meeting will take place on Monday to finalize the review of the data.

“ERB met Friday to discuss the lightning strike that occurred at the pad Wednesday. No lightning event is declared at this time, however, the team will continue to review the data,” added Monday processing information.

“No additional retest required at this time other than what has already been performed per S0018. Another ERB will be held 1400 today to discuss the data analysis further and to determine if a lightning event will be declared and/or any additional testing will be required.”

Two issues – or Interim Problem Reports (IPRs) – were added on Monday, both of which related to Ground Support Equipment (GSE) and hold no impact to the overall pad flow.

S2“New IPR to APU (Auxiliary Power Unit). During L (Left) Rock system load (Solid Rocket Booster), the APU cart scale was not reading properly and could not determine how much fuel had been loaded,” processing information added. “Fuel was drained back into the cart to troubleshoot.

“Troubleshooting revealed that two of the three flexhoses were incorrectly connected to the Tilt system. No fuel was loaded into the Tilt system. The hoses were disconnected, and reconnected to the Rock system.

“New IPR to APU for a minor QD (Quick Disconnect) leak during RH (Right Hand) Tilt system fill. The leak was controlled with an aspirator. Troubleshooting revealed that the leak was due to the side load on the QD.”

Preparations for Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test (TCDT) began on Monday, ahead of the scheduled test that was to take in Tuesday and Wednesday. However, despite the STS-129 crew arriving at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) today, plans are being looked into that would result in a delay part of the test until November 2-3.

STS-129 Launch Date Slip:

The change to the TCDT timeline relates to the slip of STS-129’s opening launch attempt – which came after the Atlas V rocket launch of Intelsat 14 in the early morning hours of November 14 won priority from the Eastern Range.

A3Opening information relating to the problem with finding space for Atlantis to launch – due to issues the availability of slots on the Eastern Range were first noted last week by Space Shuttle Manager John Shannon.

Given the late afternoon launch time of Atlantis on November 12 (4:04P.M.), and 36 to 48 hours necessary to reconfigure the Eastern Range to support the Atlas V, Atlantis has seen her opening attempt slip to November 16. With the Delta IV’s WGS satellite on November 18, only the 16th is available to STS-129 – with the potential to negotiate the 17th as a second launch day being evaluated.

The news came after Monday’s Stage Operations Readiness Review (SORR) meeting, which was only able to confirm the 16th as a launch date.

“Range constraints on either side of the original launch window have closed it tighter. (We) don’t know yet is how many attempts are allowed. Just one try on 11/16, but the way the range constraints line up, there could be another on 11/17,” noted the SORR memo.

“This launch date does take us to or just over Thanksgiving day. Please make sure that you have enough personnel over the holiday to offer adequate support.”

With the Soyuz TMA-15 spacecraft (which was launched in May 2009) scheduled to undock from the International Space Station on December 1, and the Soyuz TMA-17 launch of a new three person ISS crew subset slated for December 21, a small window in December could be arranged – should Atlantis fail to launch on November 16 (and/or potentially November 17).

L2 members: 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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