Saturday, December 1, 2007

Atlantis still set for launch on December, 6th

Space Shuttle Atlantis sitting at the Launch Pad

The agency-level flight readiness review held yesterday concluded with the expected December, 6th launch date for Atlantis STS-122 mission. This continues Atlantis' exceptionally well processing flow. No major problems occurred and this is probably one of the cleanest mission preparations for a long time.

Space Shuttle Atlantis is sitting at launch pad 39A and will rocket into space at 4:31p EST next Thursday. It will deliver the European Columbus space lab. It will be attached to the Harmony module which was brought up into space by Discovery's STS-120 mission.

Meanwhile, the international space station crew has more or less finished the connection of Harmony to its final destination. This is a perquisite for STS-122, as Columbus will be mounted on one of Harmonies docking port. There are some news on a failed leak check, but it is said that this was most probably a sensor issue, not an actual leak. Sensor problems are common and so it looks very good from the ISS point of view, too.

What is becoming an increasing concern is abrasion in a solar array rotary joint (SARJ). This was detected a bit prior to STS-120. Discovery's crew brought some samples back to earth, which are now being analyzed. Some more images and samples have been collected by the ISS crew. While the SARJ issue is no constraint for STS-122, it could (and probably will) affect future missions. Without a properly-working SARJ, the station can not generate enough power to support its final configuration. As far as it looks now, the repair will be quite complex and require a number of spacewalks, maybe carried out in February's STS-123 mission. But it is way to early to know anything exactly - engineers are still evaluating the problem.

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