Engineers preparing Atlantis and Endeavour for the end of T&R ops

by Philip Sloss

With Space Shuttle orbiter Discovery buttoned up in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) ahead of her flight to her retirement home, and with Enterprise ready to make way for Discovery and head to her new display site, the Shuttle team at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is focused on finishing Transition and Retirement (T&R) work for Atlantis and Endeavour.

Nearing The Very End:

Atlantis and Endeavour are back in the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) after a series of moves back and forth between the OPF and VAB since they returned from their final delivery missions to the International Space Station (ISS) last year.

Atlantis was recently moved back into OPF Bay 1, while Endeavour has been back in OPF Bay 2 since February 1.

One of the OPF bays, OPF Bay 3, was released from Shuttle processing work last year – allowing it to be converted for use by Boeing and their CST-100 spacecraft – which meant a return to earlier times, when there were more orbiters than available OPF bays to process them.

“And that was a question when we first started discussing the ability to turn over OPF-3 before we were done with all the vehicles,” Stephanie Stilson, NASA Flow Director for Orbiter Transition and Retirement, noted during an extensive question and answer session with the media while Discovery and Atlantis were trading places on March 9.

Noting years of experience juggling orbiters and garage space, she added: “we went back to that and said ‘hey, we used to be in a situation where we had four vehicles and only three bays’ and we did it just fine, so we knew we had the capability to store these vehicles in the Vehicle Assembly Building and we have been doing work on Atlantis in there (the VAB).

“There are certain things we can’t do over there, and we won’t even try to do that, certain things that have to happen in the OPF and we’ll do them over there.”

There are plans to do the same refit operation with OPF Bay 1 – as the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) moves forward with its dual use (NASA and Commercial) transition – which means that Atlantis will make one more trip to the VAB.

“Atlantis will go back to the Vehicle Assembly Building for another period of time of storage,” Ms Stilson said, “and that’s because of our goal to turn over OPF-1 as soon as we can to that new customer.

“I don’t know who that is, but there is a new customer. So Atlantis will spend some time in the Vehicle Assembly Building, we’ll do work while it’s there and then bring it back into the OPF before it goes out to the Visitors Complex.”

Atlantis is currently scheduled to make that trip down Kennedy Parkway to the Visitors Complex in November.

After Atlantis was spotted in OPF-1, the orbiter was jacked and leveled on March 12 and the payload bay doors were opened the next day. Hypergolic fuel and oxidizer deactivation and safing work is in progress, along with work to remove RTLS dump valves from the orbiter’s aft compartment.

After almost eight months in storage in the VAB, work resumed on Endeavour in OPF-2 in February.

Endeavour will be transported for public display to the California Science Center in Los Angeles, California; the current schedule is targeting a ferry flight to Los Angeles International Airport in the mid-September time-frame.

“We are on schedule, (but) we still have a lot to do on Endeavour,” Stilson noted. “The difference between Discovery and Endeavour is that we’re taking more (Main Propulsion System) components out of Endeavour than we did (with) Discovery.

“We have accomodated for that in the schedule, and that got us to the September time-frame. If everything goes as planned, we will be on target, but there’s a lot of time and work to do in between now and then, so you can’t hold me to that exact date yet, but we’re looking pretty good.”

In addition to the MPS component removal work – required for the Space Launch System (SLS) Program – just begining, since returning to OPF-2 at the beginning of February, Endeavour’s decommissioned Forward Reaction Control System (FRCS) module, FRC5, was reinstalled and the Orbiter Docking System was removed from the top of the orbiter’s external airlock.

Self-Contained Atmospheric Protection Ensemble (SCAPE) operations were conducted to begin removing Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) system components from the orbiter’s aft compartment, and deservicing of water and freon coolant loops is in progress.

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Preparations to reinstall Endeavour’s Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) pods were in work last week and the left-hand pod, LP03, was scheduled for reinstallation March 19-20.

Looking ahead, Stilson was asked about the current schedule for the final work on Discovery next month in anticipation of a ferry flight departure from the Shuttle Landing Facility around daybreak on April 17.

The current plan has Discovery remaining in VAB High Bay 4 until April 14, when the orbiter will be towed out to the Mate Demate Device, where the final work at KSC will be done to get Discovery attached to the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.

Ms Stilson said that the team will work a single 10-hour shift each day in the final work to have Discovery ready for the flight to Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., and adjacent to the orbiter’s new home, the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center.

To read about the orbiters –  from birth, processing, every single mission, through to retirement, click here for the links:

(Images: Via special photography provided by Brian Papke, MaxQ/ – many thousands of super hi-res image stock available on L2’s new Photo Section – around 750 gbs in size. Plus L2 (Dream Chaser in OPF))

(L2 and NSF are continuing to follow the orbiters through their transitional period. To join L2, click here:

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