STS-131 pushes into FRRs – STS-134 meetings point to large AMS delay

by Chris Bergin

No major topics are expected at next week’s Space Shuttle Program (SSP) Flight Readiness Review (FRR), as Discovery continues to push towards her April 5 launch date. Processing is also proceeding well for May’s STS-132 flight with Atlantis, although Endeavour’s STS-134 mission is subject to program level meetings – starting next Monday – due a potentially “significant” delay relating to its payload.

STS-131 Pad Flow Latest:

With the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test (TCDT) – a two day dress rehearsal that mimics the final stages of the countdown, along with crew safety procedures – completed on Friday, work over the weekend will focus on Discovery’s Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) and preparations for hypergolic loading.

“In work with Pad validation activities, those are proceeding well. IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) calibration completed second shift on Friday,” noted NASA Test Director (NTD) processing information on L2.

“HPU (Hydraulic Power Unit) carts were transferred from the Hyper Fuel Farm and lifted to the zero-level of the MLP (Mobile Launch Platform) on 3rd shift Friday morning. Due to conflicting resources, the Pad-A GH2 recharge is now rescheduled for next Wednesday, March 10th.

“Weekend Work: SSME Frequency Response Test and Helium Signature Test. S0024 Hypergolic servicing preps.”

With departmental FRRs already concluding, the results will make up what is usually a two day SSP FRR at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston – although STS-130’s SSP FRR only took up a day, thanks to a lack of issues from the previous flight, STS-129.

A similar situation for STS-131’s SSP FRR appears likely, with STS-130’s IFA (In Flight Anomaly) review at the PRCB (Program Requirements Control Board) on Thursday showing only three IFAs for the entire mission – with no issues of note for Endeavour herself.

STS-131 Specific Articles:

“The STS-131 SSP FRR is March 10 and 11. Charts are due Monday. Special topics are due by (Friday). The STS-130 MMT (Mission Management Team) Debrief will be scheduled toward the end of the month,” noted the latest Shuttle Standup/Integration report on L2.

“Inputs for the debrief are due by Friday to see if a stand alone debrief is needed; otherwise it will be combined with a pre-brief for STS-131. Had a successful pre-FRR. Had three integrated IFAs that will be bringing forward to be dispositioned.”

The large Orbiter Project Office (OPO) only found one item of interest during their departmental FRR for STS-131, relating to inspections that are to be carried out on Discovery at the pad – following the STS-130 observation of Endeavour’s left hand outboard elevon flipper door sliding seal protrusion, and the protruding window insert.

“Had FRR with OPO. Have a little bit of open work left on OV-103 (Discovery) out at the Pad,” added OPO via the Standup report. “Still a little more to do with flipper door inspection with regards to the seal that came up during the last flight, and also a little more ceramic insert inspection to be done. Will have Chits in the system to do both of these.”

Other items that will highlight the FRR will be the External Tank, specific to the foam liberations from the intertank region.

STS-132 Processing Latest:

Atlantis’ final “scheduled’ mission – STS-132 – continues to work towards a May 14 launch date, with evaluations on ET-136’s intertank foam also set to take place shortly in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) High Bay 2 (HB-2) via plug/pull tests.

“In the VAB, got ET-136 offloaded and put into the HB-2 checkout cell. Will pick up with test and checkout activities,” noted processing information. “ET-136 (VAB HB-2 East) Shakedown/Receiving inspections continue. GUCP (Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate) and LO2/LH2 checkout preps continue.

“Will talk the ET-136 intertank foam bond adhesion testing (plug/pull tests) that needs to be done. Will discuss options. SSP (Space Shuttle Program Manager) Mr. (John) Shannon added that since going away from platforms to a cherry picker cleaning, it must be decided whether the same plug pattern is appropriate.”

The change from platforms to mechanical lifters relates to the process of cleaning the intertank structure during processing towards foam application at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF). It is believed that the root cause for the liberations during ascent is caused by dust contamination, with the old platforms obstructing the proper removal of the offending dust.

A lack of intertank foam loss during ET-136’s ascent will confirm the root cause and the aforementioned solution.

The primary payload for STS-132 is the Russian Mini-Research Module 1 (MRM-1) and Integrated Cargo Carrier – Vertical Lightweight Deployable (ICC-VLD) pallet, with baseline evaluations continuing as per normal. Already noted is a Change Request (CR) relating to the mission duration.

“Processed the STS-132 CR for mission duration to 12+0 (days); went outside the board,” noted Flight Operations and Integration on the Standup report.

Processing of Atlantis continues to go well, following the installation of her three SSMEs and the start of booster stacking operations inside the VAB.

“OV-104 (STS-132) Got the clearance to start engine leak checks. Working base heat shield installation. Continuing installation of lower LESS carrier panels above the right and left wings,” noted Ground Operations. “In HB-1, will be picking up with SRB stacking, with the left aft booster going up.

“Orbiter: OV-104 (OPF Bay 1): Orbiter closeouts for rollout to VAB will be started Friday. Weekend Work: ECLSS (Environmental Control and Life Support System) GN2 servicing, SSME and TPS (Thermal Protection System) work.

“BI-143 / RSRM 111 (VAB HB-1): Left Aft Booster stacking is complete. Right Aft Booster stacking is scheduled for Friday.”

STS-134 Processing Latest:

From a processing standpoint, all is proceeding to plan with Endeavour, following her return from STS-130. Preparations for STS-134 are taking place, as engineers work towards the removal of her three SSMEs – which will begin on Monday.

“Thermography on the WLE (Wing Leading Edge) has been completed, and is in data review. Working engine removal preps. Picked up with checkout of the FRCS (Forward Reaction Control System). Continuing with post-flight window inspections,” outlined an overview from Ground Operations.

“Working on OV-105 (Endeavour) post-flight STS-130,” added SSME contractor Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, via the Standup report. “Will be working Saturday on engine removal preps, so that engine removal can start first thing Monday morning.

“It takes around three shifts to get those engines back in the Engine Shop. The first activity in the Engine Shop will be running the normal nozzle tube leak checks.”

One issue – or Interim Problem Report (IPR) – is continuing to be worked during nominal flow operations, relating to a payload bay door centerline latch limit switch noted as off when should be on.

“IPR-03 troubleshooting continues; the team performed bore scope inspection on the LH and RH (Left and Right Hand) PLBD (Payload Bay Door) shear pins,” the NTD reported. “Troubleshooting results are under engineering evaluation.

“RCC (Reinforced Carbon Carbon) Thermography completed Friday. FRCS functional checkout is complete. OBSS (Orbiter Boom Sensor System) removal Friday. Weekend Work: SSME removal preps. Fuel cells 1, 2 & 3 work.”

Potentially Large STS-134 Delay:

STS-134 currently has a launch date of July 29. However, memos started to circulate earlier this week requesting inputs from team leaders on the potential impacts of swapping the mission order, by allowing STS-133 to launch ahead of Endeavour’s mission.

Further memos on Friday informed managers to attend a program level meeting next Monday, due to the potential of a “significant” delay to STS-134, relating to problems during the testing of Endeavour’s payload – the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS).

“Conducting a quick look assessment of the impacts of flying STS-133/ULF5 prior to 134/ULF6. This option is being looked at due to problems that have been encountered with the AMS payload during testing (planned to fly on ULF6),” noted one of several memos that are being collated in L2 ahead of Monday’s meeting.

“It is not clear at this point how significant a delay will result from these AMS problems, but the Program wants to look at our options before too much time passes and it becomes too late to consider a swap.”

A full review of the situation will be published after Monday’s meeting in order to gain full details of the problem, and the potential length of the delay – although one memo intimated a slip of several months, while some sources claim it could be as serious as slipping well into 2011. NASA managers do hold flexibility in the schedule to move a flight into the first quarter of 2011 – if required.

Ironically, the potential slip to STS-134 comes at a time when lawmakers are pushing for a large extension to the shuttle’s operational lifetime, a drive which was acknowledged – at least by way of asking his teams to remained focus on the job in hand – by Mr Shannon.

“There are many stories in the news, as there always are. This time it seems they are more focused on our team (SSP). The best thing we can do is to continue to operate excellently as we have been, keep putting together outstanding vehicles with no problems in flight, and keep hitting our launch windows,” Mr Shannon added to the Standup report.

“The team has been doing a wonderful job of that. We just need to keep it up, and keep our heads down, and we will see where the country wants this team to go.”

L2 members : Documentation – from which the above article has quoted snippets – is available in full in the related L2 sections, now over 4500 gbs in size

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