STS-130 completes Flight Day 2 inspections following impressive launch

by Chris Gebhardt

Endeavour and her crew of six have enjoyed their first full day on orbit following a stunning night-time launch from the Kennedy Space Center at 04:14:08 EST on Monday, February 8. The launch of Endeavour followed two flawless countdowns, with the only real concern for both launch attempts being the weather. Endeavour’s crew spent the day inspecting the vehicle for any damage that might have occurred during liftoff as well as preparing the vehicle for docking to the ISS tomorrow morning.

STS-130 Launch Campaign and Weather Discussions:

With the first launch attempt scrubbed at 0430EST on February 7, just 9-minutes before the scheduled T0 time for Endeavour and the STS-130 mission, launch managers undertook a 24-hr scrub turnaround, with 60 percent “go” weather odds.

Following a flawless tanking, Endeavour and the STS-130 stack continued to perform exceptionally well, with the Launch Control team recording ZERO Problem Reports on the vehicle in the last 6-hours of the countdown – a number that was previously unheard of in the near 29-year, 130-flight history of the Space Shuttle Program.

In the end, like the first attempt, the final Go/No Go decision came down to the weather. However, unlike the first attempt, it was not the weather at the Kennedy Space Center that would prove overtly troublesome in the final hour of the countdown.

After going GREEN for weather at the Kennedy Space Center just after 3a.m., it was learned that weather conditions at the one remaining good TAL (Trans-oceanic Abort Landing) site in Istres, France also went RED for weather as a frontal system moved into the area, bringing with it an unacceptably low cloud deck.

Up until that point, all three TAL sites had be trending in the direction of the previous day’s (Sunday’s) forecast – with Zaragoza, Spain being NO GO for rain showers within 20NM (nautical miles), Moron, Spain being NO GO due to low clouds and rain showers, and Istres, France being GO.

Nonetheless, thanks to real-time observations from Shuttle TAL support personnel in Zaragoza, Spain, the Space Flight Meteorological Group in Houston, along with Houston Flight (the Ascent Flight Director), was able to confirm the clearing of rain showers around Zaragoza – thereby resulting in an acceptable TAL weather forecast.

With the final weather hurdle cleared, shuttle Endeavour lifted off right on time at 04:14:08 EST, February 8, 2010 – lighting up the Florida sky for hundreds of miles in a spectacular (and what is believed to be the final) night time launch from the Kennedy Space Center. The launch of Endeavour was visible up the entire Eastern seaboard and inland portions of the Eastern United States as well as portions of The Bahamas.

During the standard post-launch news conference, KSC Launch Integration Manager Mike Moses and Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach discussed the frost seen on the External Tank during STS-130’s two launch attempts as well as the discussions during the first attempt of waving the RTLS (Return To Launch Site) abort cloud ceiling rule.

In response to the question regarding frost on the External Tank, Mike Moses stated that frost is actually a common occurrence on the External Tank; however, it usually is not as visible as it was during the STS-130 launch campaign.

“Frost isn’t all that uncommon. Just an environmental condition. Light helps a lot a night [in terms of seeing the frost clearly]. In the Xenons it glows. You don’t normally see it when we’re in different lighting conditions.’

Moses continued by explaining why the presense of frost on the exterior portions of the tank are not a concern for liftoff debris.

“With frost you’re looking at light fluffy stuff. As soon as [the SRBs ignite] and you go there’s no mass [with the frost] to fall off.

“From a frost standpoint, the rules talk about when you’re going to get frost and what frost leads to. You’re more worried about frost that forms and masks ice formation under it or on top of it because, from an imagery standpoint, it makes [the ice] harder to detect. We have really good techniques these days with the Ice Teams, the IR cameras, and all the Hi-Resolution photography and we can really zoom in and look exactly where that frost is [and what its properties are].

In response to the potential ice buildup under and on top of the frost, Moses stated that “We talked about at several points throughout the count. As each camera angle came up and rotated through the views, some of us in the management room were seeing views of the tank we hadn’t seen before. We ask the engineering team, ‘hey does [the frost] look like [it’s] growing?’ And every single time the Ice Team came back and said ‘that’s the same exact condition as it was when we were there and nothing has changed; there’s no growth there.’

“So we didn’t have any worries with that and the experts who do this every day didn’t have any worries with the frost.”

STS-130 Specific Articles:

In addition to the discussion about the frost, Mike Moses and Mike Leinbach also explained the considerations and conversations about waving the RTLS cloud ceiling rule that took place right before the scrub of Endeavour’s first launch attempt on February 7.

“Our Flight Rules cover what we need for RTLS in terms of ceiling and visibility. [The cloud ceiling] limit is 5,000ft for RTLS and the Range rules for visibility sit at about 4,000ft depending on thickness of clouds.

“Basically, we’ve always had this slight disconnect about what the Range would be go for and what RTLS landing would be go for. And they’re off by about a 1,000ft. Over the years, we’ve learned to constantly evaluate that if you have a condition that is acceptable for the Range but not RTLS, what does it take to be acceptable [across the board].

In that manner “each of the pilots practice various visibility runs. They learn what the need to have to be comfortable: what would be good [and] what would be bad. Really, you’re looking for a [cloud] deck that allows you to gain the horizon as you’re rolling around the HAC (Heading Alignment Circle) so you understand clearly where you’re at.

“Last night we had that in the fact that there was nothing above that [cloud] deck. So clear skies up to that point (about 3,800ft).

“Then you look at the thickness of [the cloud deck] as you go through it. So you’ve got a good reference point, you know where you’re coming through, you punch through the ceiling really fast so you know you’re on your approach path. And once you get through it’s clear on down [the runway].

“The other big factor is what the wind’s doing from about 10,000ft on down and the work load that that then drives for the pilot. If all he has to do is pay attention to that glides slope as he comes in, that’s a little more acceptable. So we send the STA (Shuttle Training Aircraft) up there to fly that path and characterize that for us. So we send the STA up there with an astronaut to go fly that approach and go see what it really is compared to what our weather data is telling us.

“So what we were talking about yesterday was: could we get comfortable with the fact that, even though we were a little bit lower than our limits, we could still have good [conditions for RTLS]. And we were debating back and forth as to how comfortable we really were there. And we just didn’t get there on that yesterday.

Additionally, Mike Leinbach added, “There were two groups working the weather last night: the Flight Director out in Houston and the Range safety guys here over Cape-side. Both groups were ‘no go’ and they were both talking about how could they get to ‘go.’

“What we heard on the net was that the Flight Director probably could have gotten there. I never got comfortable at all that the Range was going to get there. In fact, we heard no discussion at all about a waver on the net from them. And so they were clearly ‘no go’ all the way down to T0. And, indeed, at T0 they were violating their criteria.

“So as a Launch Director you evaluate those things. Even if we’d gotten ‘go’ on both of those, I would have been hard-pressed to keep going. I thought we were getting to the point were we might have been pressing a little bit too hard. And one of the things that’s in my job jar is to make sure we don’t get launch fever. I’m not saying we had that last night, but we were probably getting to the point where it was getting kind of close to that issue.

“So you listen to that, you listen to the rationale for developing the waver. And then you ask yourself the hard question: do we really have good reason to go fly tonight or should we stand down? And last night we were ‘no go’ from a Range Safety perspective all the way down to T0. So we never really had to implement the prerogative that I have of saying, ‘you know, it’s just not a good night to go fly.’

Flight Day 2 – TPS Surveys:

With the handheld photography and ET Umbilical Well imagery in the process of being downloaded to the ground for the Damage Assessment Team (DAT) to begin their evaluations into any foam liberation events, FD2 will take a first look at the health of Endeavour’s heatshield.

Shortly after reaching orbit, Endeavour’s Payload Bay Doors were opened, followed by the deployment of her Ku-band antenna. Endeavour’s Remote Manipulator System (RMS) was also activated ahead of Flight Day 2’s inspections, along with initial post-launch checkouts.

With the NC2 and NC3 Rendezvous burns planned into the flight day, the main role for the crew will be the unberthing of the Orbiter Boom Sensor System (OBSS) via the RMS, in order to carry out surveys of Endeavour’s wing and nose cap, before heading to the OMS Pods to check for any tile damage or protruding blankets.

“TPS Surveys: All RCC (Reinforced Carbon Carbon) is inspected during the OBSS Starboard Wing, Nose Cap, and Port Wing surveys. The two wing surveys also cover most of the areas of the crew cabin. The OMS Pod is inspected using a handheld camera to take pictures from the aft flight deck windows,” noted Flight Readiness Review (FRR) mission outline documentation (L2).

“The OBSS survey procedures incorporate the use of supplemental IDC (Digital Camera) images during LDRI (Laser Dynamic Range Imager) scans, thus reducing the likelihood of needing Focused Inspection. The OBSS unberth procedure incorporates the LDRI 3D calibration and the starboard survey the flat field calibration.

Three crewmembers are required continuously during the surveys, two for the SRMS/OBSS ops and one to operate the situational awareness cameras and sensors. Only two crewmembers are required during unberthing and berthing operations (non-laser ops).

Scans of the entire starboard wing are not easily performed, or are impossible to perform while docked, which results in those areas being scheduled first. The surveys are scheduled to continue through the night passes, but the crew may elect to pause if the night time visuals are not sufficient.

“The LDRI survey attitude requires no sun within a +/-20 degree field of view (FOV) of the laser bore-sight. Additionally, no sun can be within a 10 degree half-cone directly behind the instrument; however it is highly desired to keep the sun at a 90 degree half cone behind the instrument as long as it’s not directly behind.”

Although Flight Day 3’s RPM (Rbar Pitch Maneuver) – carried out “underneath” the ISS ahead of docking – will provide a near-complete overview of Endeavour’s heatshield, the OBSS inspections will give the opening insights into the extent of any damage sustained during the ride uphill.

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