Saturday, December 8, 2007

Next shuttle launch attempt Sunday

Space Shuttle Atlantis at the Pad after launch scrubThe next shuttle launch attempt for Atlantis STS-122 mission is now set for Sunday at 3:21p. As it looks, NASA now actually attempts to fly without the ECO sensors. As I have written in my essay yesterday, that is not necessarily a bad thing to do.

To do this, new guidelines (procedures) for both the astronauts as well as mission control need to be developed. This is quite complex. It could not be done to support a Saturday launch. It is hoped that the additional one day of delay allows to finish those procedures.

On close look, the launch window has also been shrunk. It is now just a one-minute launch window. It obviously is done to preserve fuel. The primary risk of launching without the ECO sensors is fuel depletion. The best mitigation is to make sure to have enough propellants on board. Depending on when the shuttle is launched, there is more or less fuel needed to reach the desired orbital position. This is a matter of seconds. So NASA is now going for the optimal launch Window with the least fuel consumption. While this increases the risk of launch scrub, it reduces the risk of running out of fuel. It obviously is an excellent decision to go for the short launch window.

There is another mission management team meeting today. They will look at new data as well as the status of the new launch procedures. Depending on how things are, they will give a "go" for Sunday launch - or not. This is how to react to a situation like the one that is faced now: do the right thing to support the mission, but keep an eye on all options until the last minute.

And a word to those of you who need to leave Kennedy Space Center before launch (like fellow launch viewer Bill Rose). I know your disappointment. I know it too well. I went through all of this myself in summer of 2006, when I tried to view Atlantis STS-115 mission. Even though I had quite a lot of time to stay there, it was delayed so often (and even because of a Hurricane!) that I finally needed to leave. That was a sad experience. However, I am glad that they only launch when it is as safe as possible and I am sure you will agree with me.

What I recommend is to go to th Kennedy Space Center today and try to get on the up close tour. I am not sure if it runs due to the current pad activity. But if it does, it will probably provide a great experience, getting you as close to a real space shuttle as you never again will be in your life. It doesn't matter if the RSS is still blocking some of the view, it will be spectacular in any case.

Now let me quote the NASA homepage to also get the official word over to you:

NASA is targeting the launch of space shuttle Atlantis no earlier than Sunday, Dec. 9, at 3:21 p.m. EST from the Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Shuttle program managers made the decision after a meeting Friday to review data on a problem with a fuel cutoff sensor system inside the shuttle and its external fuel tank.

Because of the length of the meeting, the managers agreed that targeting Sunday would allow the launch and management teams appropriate time to rest and prepare. The Mission Management Team will meet Saturday at 1 p.m. to decide whether to make a Sunday attempt. A news conference will be held after the meeting's conclusion.

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