Saturday, December 22, 2007

Atlantis STS-122 launch date not decided yet...

As I had written, the launch date for space shuttle Atlantis' STS-122 mission has been moved to no earlier than January 2007. The tanking test last week seems to have brought quite solid data, but NASA has not yet decided which options to take.

There is still a chance that Atlantis can launch early January - but it looks a bit more like a further delay. I have read both about January, 25th and February, 14th as possible launch dates. In any case, if the shuttle can not be launched on the 10th, the rest of the shuttle flight schedule will be affected. If Atlantis mid-January or later, there is not enough time left to launch shuttle Endeavour's SS-123 mission on February, 14th as originally planned.

NASA's mission management team will meet again next week, on the 27th and see which additional data has been gathered. More importantly, repair options will have been thought out in the mean time and so it is expected that after that meeting the exact course of actions will be known.

There is already some work going on at the pad, but my understanding is that this is go forward work: it does some things that may be useful, based on what may be decided on the 27th. Not
doing that work right now, would limit options available.

If the January, 10th launch target can not be preserved, it is most likely that Atlantis will take up Endeavour's launch window and the other missions move forward in an equivalent way. However, a new launch schedule will than probably be needed.

This also puts some pressure on the Constellation program - they need to wait for Atlantis' STS-125 flight, the Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission. Only after that has been completed, launch pad 39B can be handed over to Constellation and be reconstructed. So delays in STS-122 will probably also affect constellation.

According to NASA, there is still sufficient buffer available to complete the international space station ISS before the shuttle fleet is set to retire in 2010. But that buffer is also eaten up, so this is probably another concern.

As you can see, there is a lot depending on STS-122. But I applaud NASA "better safe than sorry" approach. It is important that the space shuttle is safe to fly. And it is also important to understand that ECO sensor problem, so that the root cause will not bite again on future missions.

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