Atlantis arrives at Pad 39A – still tracking May 14 launch target

by Chris Bergin

STS-132’s weather-delayed rollout to Pad 39A began at 23:31 local time on Wednesday, following three cancelled attempts to roll Atlantis out on what is currently her final trip to the launch pad. She completed the journey in just under six hours. Only a day or two of contingency remains in the STS-132 flow to make the May 14 launch date, as the Terminal Count Down Test (TCDT) breaches into the weekend.

STS-132 Status:

Atlantis is being processing for her STS-132 mission that will be the 132nd flight of the Shuttle Program and the 34th shuttle flight dedicated to construction and outfitting of the International Space Station. The flight of Atlantis will utilize External Tank ET-136, Reusable Solid Rocket Motor set 111, Solid Rocket Booster BI set 143, and operational software OI-34.

The primary payload for the mission is the Russian Mini-Research Module 1 (MRM-1) and Integrated Cargo Carrier – Vertical Lightweight Deployable (ICC-VLD) pallet. The MRM-1 will be mounted toward the aft of the payload bay while the ICC-VLD will be berthed in the center for both launch and reentry.

Although Atlantis will be processed up to the point of rollover for her role as the LON (Launch On Need) vehicle in support of the final scheduled shuttle mission, no approval has been given to turn STS-335 into a full-up mission (STS-135) at this time.

Atlantis’ mating operations inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) proceeded without any major issue, following an extended – photo opportunity-heavy – rollover from her Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF).

“OV-104 (Atlantis) was rolled into the VAB (April 13). The orbiter was spotted in the VAB transfer aisle at 1102 EDT,” reviewed the NASA Test Director via flow information (L2).

“Orbiter / ET mate (S0004) status: The orbiter was lifted over the transom into HB-1; aft soft-mate worked. D platform extension is complete, B platform extension scheduled. Forward soft-mate is next, followed by hard-mate and sling disassembly.”

Following soft-mate work in the S0004 operations, mechanical engineers hard-mated the orbiter to the External Tank and Solid Rocket Booster stack, which was followed by a small issue during ET umbilical ordinance installation and stud tensioning – which marked only the 23rd Interim Problem Report (IPR) for the STS-132 flow.

“IPR 0023: Picked up by Orbiter Handling Engineer (OHE) during stud tensioning: 2 of the 3 LO2 studs failed to come up to torque,” noted the IPR. “The GSE (Ground Support Equipment) stud tensioning heads were changed out and torque was successfully achieved. IPR closed.

“Forward/Aft hard-mate was complete at 1515 EDT April 14. The Orbiter sling has been removed and positioned in the transfer aisle for disassembly. LO2/LH2 Orbiter/ET Umbilical structural mates and LO2/LH2 Tail Service Mast (TSM) mechanical mates are complete; electrical mates are in work,” added the NTD.

S0044 operations also took place to simulate the launch countdown, involving the entire LCC (Launch Control Center) teams, as the countdown was practised up to the point of an abort ahead of SSME (Space Shuttle Main Engine) ignition.

“The white room (was) extended and crew module (was) opened. The STS-132 Launch Countdown Simulation (S0044) was completed April 15 to certify the launch team.”

While sistership Discovery was awaiting her return from space after undocking from the International Space Station (ISS), Atlantis was put through one of the final VAB operations, the Shuttle Interface Test – which was successfully completed.

With platform retract/rollout preparations proceeding smoothly, and the STS-132 payload already inside the launch pad’s Payload Change-out Room (PCR), Atlantis waited on acceptable weather to head out of the VAB.

“S0600 Payload Ops: The payload was transferred to the Payload Change-out Room (PCR). The canister has been lowered and transported back to the CRF. Payload installation into the Orbiter is planned for Wednesday.”

However, both the rollout and the planned installation of the STS-132 payload into Atlantis Payload Bay (PLB) were delayed until Wednesday morning, due to poor weather – including lightning – over the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

“Rollout to Pad A was postponed again due to adverse weather. Wednesday’s roll out attempt was planned for 0600 EDT however adverse weather is expected to cause a delay of approximately two hours. Weather looks good for the remainder of the operation,” added the NTD.

Unfortunately, after the crawlerway (CW) was inspected, managers decided to delay rollout one more time, to allow the tracks to dry out.

“The crawlerway is too wet to proceed with rollout today. Eight hours minimum is required for draining and drying based on walk downs and experience from STS-127. We have chosen midnight tonight for run 4 first motion, Call to Stations 2100E,” noted Launch Director Mike Leinbach (L2).

“The weather forecast is good for the next two days, and no more rain on the CW is expected. Next update as we approach roll time tonight.”

STS-132 Specific Articles:

Launch Pad Validation call to stations was re-scheduled for between 1200-1300 EDT Wednesday, prior to the latest rollout delay. Payload installation, along with hydraulic operations will also be rescheduled

The Terminal Count Down Test (TCDT), however, will now conclude at the weekend, while the STS-132 crew are already at KSC, after arriving in their T-38 jets on Tuesday evening.

“The flight crew arrived last night to participate in the Terminal Count Down Test (TCDT) that was scheduled for Thursday and Friday,” with the latest Shuttle Standup/Integration report (L2) adding an item of military trivia about the crew.

“Flight Crew (NASA/JSC) STS-132 will be the fifth flight in a row of the last 12 to have a Navy or Marine Corp pilot in the Commander’s seat.”

While other effects to the Integrated Flow are being assessed, the launch on May 14 is preserved, added Mr Leinbach – with Flight Director Richard Jones adding that his ascent team will be ready for the TDCT breaching into the weekend.

“To all of the mandatory STS-132 Ascent team members that will be supporting TCDT: I know this is unfortunate, but KSC has again delayed the rollout of Atlantis from the VAB to the pad due to weather concerns,” noted Mr Jones via a memo to his team (L2).

“As a result, KSC will push the T-0 day for TCDT to SATURDAY. We will support this weekend if rollout occurs tonight.

Over the the Johnson Space Center (JSC), several departmental Flight Readiness Reviews (FRRs) are taking place this week, following on from the MOD FRR at the start of the month, which outlined the mission (14 presentations available on L2). Wednesday will mark the Orbiter Project Office (OPO) FRR, while the key Launch Readiness Review was also conducted on Wednesday.

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