Sunday, September 30, 2007

Discovery arrived at launch pad

Shuttle Discovery arrived at the launch pad (STS-120 mission)
After a 6 hour journey, Discovery has arrived at the launch pad. Everything is still set for an October, 23rd launch.

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Space Shuttle Discovery rolls out to the pad

Discovery on the crawlerway - 1 hour into its journey to the pad
Space Shuttle Discovery rolling out from the VAB to the launch pad
Discovery begins rollout from VAB to the launch pad (STS-120 mission)
... Discovery begins rollout at 7am EDT.

This is a major step in space shuttle processing. Discovery has been mated to the tank and external rocket boosters inside the Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB for short. Now it is time to go the launch pad, where further work will be conducted. Most importantly, the payload will be integrated. Ffor STS-120, this is the International Space Station's (ISS) Harmony module.

The rollout is performed by a gigantic "crawler" which moves the Space Shuttle stack (tank, boosters, orbiter) at a very slow speed to the pad. It is a 3 mile journey and takes around six hours.

The move can not be done if there is bad weather predicted. This is the reason why the rollout had been delayed for some hours. However, the rollout was move ahead of schedule, the current rollout is even a bit before the actual schedule. So far, the target launch date of October, 23rd is still very possible. There is even a day of contingency (spare time) left in the "processing flow" (aka "launch preparations" or "getting it ready" in less technical terms;)).

I will update my blog with additional pictures during the rollout. I also plan to create a short animation of the rollout once it is over (depending on my ability to capture enough images).
Picture Sources: NASA TV, NASA Webcams

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weather still bad...

Discovery's rollout from the VAB to the launch pad is delayed by another hour due to bad weather.

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rollout to pad postponed

Discovery's rollout to the pad seems to be postponed. I just read on a a news source that thunderstorms have caused some delay, so that the rollout will now happen on Sunday, 6am. I wonder if some of the work scheduled at the pad will now be done in the VAB...

Source: http://www.raumfahrer.net/forum/cgi-bin/YaBB.pl?num=1173608035/537#537

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Payload Canister delivered to Launch Pad...

The STS-120 payload canister is being delivered to the launch pad
Yesterday, the Payload canister has been delivered to the launch pad. What can be seen is the "protective cover" of the canister. It is now being stored at the pad. After Discovery has been moved over to the pad (starting on Saturday evening), the payload will be integrated into it (at least this is what I think will happen - remember, I am still learning...).

I've also heard that the weather forecast looks good for the rollout. Processing flow in the VAB still seems to be great, so the rollout as scheduled is very likely. However, this seems not to bring in extra contingency, as some work usually done in the VAB seems to have moved over to the pad. The reason was weather, where the favorable weather on Saturday shall be used. In any case, the NASA guys are doing an excellent job.

So far, everything still looks like an October, 23rd launch is still quite probable.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

It was not a MLP...

Look at the red circle and you will see it can't be a MLP
In my last posting I thought I had spotted a mobile launcher platform. But I was wrong. As a friend pointed out, it can not be. Look at the red circle - this is a table. It would be a real gigantic table, if it were a MLP. So it can't be...

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changed the blog url

Yesterday, I talked with some of my friends about the blog. They said: "hey, cool, but what do you do after 2010?". I was stunned. But, yes there are right. In 2010, the space shuttle is retired. Some years later (hopefully sooner than later), the Ares rockets will launch cargo and humans into space, to the Moon, hopefully to Mars and at some distant time even beyond that.

When I started this blog, the main intension was to provide a trip report from my launch viewing. But it is also interesting to write about all the cool things that go together with launch preparations. So I may continue to drop a post or two on future missions. And, of course, I will try to view an Ares launch when it is time to do so (though I guess tickets to the first human flight will be very hard to get hold off).

Writing about Ares under shuttlelaunch.gerhards.net? No, that sounds strange. So I have changed the blog url to spacelaunch.gerhards.net, just to be prepared for the new things to come. And, hey, you never know if some friendly folks will sponsor me a trip to see an Ariane or Russian launch... ;)

I have set up a redirector to redirect traffic with the old urls to the new ones. In the first day, that may not work very well (due to technical issues, for the geeks: DNS propagation delay). I'd also appreciate if you could update your bookmarks. Sorry for any hassle this url change causes - but I think it has a good reason...

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Is this a mobile launcher platform?

Is this a mobile launcher platform (MLP)?
I found this picture on one of the NASA webcams. I wonder if it is a mobile launcher platform (MLP)? If so, is it the one to be used for Discovery? I do not know enough about VAB processing flow, but it might be that the full stack (orbiter, boosters, external tank) be assembled first. When this is done, they might be lowered to the mobile launcher platform. If that's the case, then my speculation will probably be right. If anybody knows for sure, please drop me a comment. And, of course, I'll also try to find out...

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One Day of Contingency Recovered?

Shuttle rolls out of VAB to the launch pad (STS-83 mission)
As I have read on the web, Discovery seems to have one more contingency day left in its launch schedule. The wizards in the VAB seem to have done real magic. Originally, the rollout to the pad was scheduled for Sunday. Now, it seems to be Saturday, September 29th at 8pm ED. Well, that's maybe half a day of contingency if I think more about it. Extra contingency time is very desirable, because four days were lost when a damage on a landing gear strut was found and needed to be repaired. Even though the repair was ultra-fast, almost all remaining contingency time was used up. Now, with the excellent processing flow, NASA keeps again up with it. My hope is that some other activities will also be earlier than planned, leaving even more contingency. As we all know, spaceflight is inherently complex and there is a good chance that extra contingency (spare) time is needed at some stage.

For those interested: I assume that NASA TV carries some video footage from the VAB rollout.

Its very promising to see work progressing so well. To me, it looks more and more like the first launch attempt is indeed on the October, 23rd. Let's hope for the best, including good weather. I'll keep you updated.


News Source: http://www.raumfahrer.net/forum/cgi-bin/YaBB.pl?num=1173608035/480 (german!)
Picture: VAB rollout during the STS-83 mission (this is NOT STS-120!), Photo Credit: NASA

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

oops ... did not notice comments...

Sorry to all folks who commented on my blog - I did not react at all. Shame over me. If you take time to provide your ideas, you deserve at least a little bit of reaction.

The problem is that I am an email junkie - I set mail notifications for everything I do. And if I don't get an email notification, it is almost sure that I forget about it. And when setting up the blog, I forgot to enable email notifications. Guess what happened then...

The good new is that the notifications are now enabled, so I will now reply much more promptly. I enjoy your thoughts and discussions, so keep them coming. Maybe we can even manage to network a couple of folks who want to view this launch. Wouldn't that be nice? So, if you are in for it - please spread word about my little blog and help get more cool people to read, comment and discuss :)

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hotels, hotels, hotels...

A typical view of Titusville hotel reservation before launch day - unavailable ;)
Did I mention that I had quite some trouble booking hotel rooms for my shuttle launch? The nights in Orlando were no problem at all - Orlando simply has so many hotels of all kinds, it is really hard to book them out... But Titusville and Cocoa Beach is a different story.

I made the mistake to not immediately book hotel rooms after I booked my launch transportation tickets from KSC. When I was ready to do that, my fellow "launch viewers" already had taken the majority of rooms. Interestingly, the 22nd was most heavily booked - but the 23rd was much easier to get. It looks like a lot of folks believe in a total on-time launch - or hope to be able to extend if the launch is delayed. The later, I think, is a false impression.

I finally managed to book rooms, but I have to change hotels every now and then. The interesting fact about this is that on certain days I need to pack all my luggage into the car - and if that is on a launch day, I'll need to drive with my fully-packed car up to KSC. I am not sure what the security guards will say about this... For now, I hope it will not really be necessary, but, if so, I hope I can get along with it. Of course, once I am down there in the Titusville area, I'll check with the hotels if I can put my luggage into some room even when I have checked out.

So I was all set. Ahem - was I? Actually, I made a second mistake: I was so sure that Orlando hotels are no problem that I simply forgot to book a room over there! Boing... Crazy me. What now? Well, book ASAP. And that I did. Thankfully, I was able to book at the Residence Inn, what was exactly what I wanted. But the bad news was that pricing had changed. I suspect there is higher demand for rooms due to the shuttle launch. Whatever it was, it costs me around 20 bucks (plus tax, of course), per day. Bottom line: if you want to visit a shuttle launch and still stay in Orlando, book as early as possible even if it typically is no problem to get a nice room in the Orlando area...

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Discovery being mated...

Space Shuttle Discovery being mated to Solid Rocket Boosters and External Tank
Launch preparations for STS-120 seem to be on a good track. I just was able to obtain a few stunning images of Discovery being mated to the external tank and the solid rocket boosters. This all happens in the VAB, the gigantic assembly building.

On the images, you can see how the orbiter is hooked on a crane and then slowly moved over and attached to the rest of the stack.

Please note that in everyday speak, we say "space shuttle" and usually actually mean orbiter. The airplane-like crew and cargo transport system is "just" the orbiter. When mated to the boosters and external tank, it *then* become the full space shuttle.

To view all pictures, please visit my STS-120 VAB assembly picture album.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Discovery in VAB...

space shuttle discovery in the VAB waiting to be mated to external tank and boosters
I just stumbled upon this webcam image which I thought I should share. It shows Discovery in the VAB, roughly two hours ago. Its getting ready to be mated to the external tank and the solid rocket boosters.

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Discovery Cove ... or ... what to do before launch?


I fly in into Orlando slightly before launch day. There are two good reasons for that: a) I don't want to view the launch with a jetlag problem and b) I didn't get any other flights. Obviously, b) was the prime decision driver behind it. And, yes, its not easy to find flights so soon before departure (except, of course, if you are in for business class, which I am not ;)).

So I arrive a little bit to early. Question now: what to do? Of course, visiting Kennedy Space Center is a good thing to do before launch. And I will definitely do that (I'll write more about this later).

There was one thing that I also always wanted to do and never had a chance to: Sea World offers a special attraction park "Discovery Cove", where you can swim with Dolphins! Sure, its only for a brief period of time (approx. 30 minutes), but your front-row is guaranteed. I've pasted their advertising picture right at the top of my blog and hope that the experience will at least be somewhat close to what the picture promises. Sea World promises the dolphin swim is not causing stress to the animals and everything is OK from that perspective. I hope it is so.

I couldn't resist to try it out. You need to make an advance reservation for Discovery Cove. In high season you typically need to book many weeks in advance. I discovered that a space shuttle launch is somewhat similar to high season - the launch week was quickly sold out. So fast, I couldn't get hold of any tickets. But yesterday some became available. As soon as I noticed that, I booked! And now I am a proud owner of a ticket for the 21st, 2 days before launch. Which also permits me to go to Kennedy Space Center on the 22nd. GREAT!

As a side note, discovery cove is a full-day attraction. You 30-minute dolphin swim is scheduled some time over that day. You get half an our briefing in before the session. In the mean time, you can wade through a ray lagoon, feed tropical birds and swim and snorkel through a tropical reef. It almost sounds too good to be true. Well, I'll see. I guess I keep everyone updated on that, too ;)

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Discovery rolled over to the VAB

The NASA Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB)
I just read on the NASA space shuttle homepage:

Sept. 23 at 5:30 p.m. EDT
The orbiter Discovery is parked in the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building after rolling over from the Orbiter Processing Facility bay 3. First motion was at 12:22 p.m. EDT. This marks a prelaunch milestone.

Overnight Discovery will be rotated to a vertical position, hoisted and attached to its external fuel tank and two solid rocket boosters for its upcoming mission, STS-120, to the International Space Station.

Space Shuttle Discovery will roll out to Launch Pad 39A approximately one week after rollover. The launch of STS-120 is currently targeted for Oct. 23.

This is excellent news. Looks like my reservations are still right.

But what does this all mean? And why was it necessary?

Orbiters are parked in special, smaller buildings called "orbiter processing facility" or OPF. This is where the majority of work is being done on them. For example, the strut repair happened there. As far as I know, orbiters are immediately moved to the OPF when they have arrived in Kennedy Space Center. Then they are checked, repairs conducted and prepared for the next mission. They are not, mated to either the tank or the solid rocket boosters - the OPF is simply too small to do that.

Instead, that is done in the "Vehicle Assembly Building", or VAB for short. This is a gigantic building (see picture), where the boosters and tank are mounted and the shuttle is then mated to them. As I have now learned, shuttles are typically moved over to the VAB roughly a month before launch. There the mate happens and, I assume, also some further checks.

I requires good weather to move a shuttle from the OPF to the VAB. Thus this movement can easily be delayed, especially at this time of the year (just think about Florida's frequent afternoon thunderstorms...). This time, we obviously had no or at least very little delay - which is, why we are still on the timeline.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Kennedy Space Center Webcams...

NASA Webcams in Kennedy Space Center (KSC)
I just did a quick search on Google to view webcam of the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) complex. I have to admit I did not expect anything real interesting to pop up - wrong! There is actually a bunch of webcams run by NASA itself, and they seem to over interesting content.

BTW: I need to say "seem", because it is night in Florida as I blog this. So I rely on the captions.

But see yourself:



I'll be on the hunt for more related webcams. If you happen to know some, I'd appreciate if you let me know (just use a comment).

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Even a day of contingency for launch...

As nasaspaceflight.com reports, there is even one day of contingency (spare time) left in the schedule for the launch of space shuttle Discovery on October, 23rd. This is excellent news for me, once again showing that it was right to stick with my original travel plans.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Discovery still in for October, 23rd launch...

Discovery with repaired strut (STS-120)
The guys at NASA and its suppliers are fantastic. As you can see on the picture, the strut is re-assembled and even the tires are mounted again. NASA is very optimistic to even launch on the 23rd, as originally planned.

Listen to what these fantastic guys have to say:

With space shuttle Discovery's right landing gear reassembled following the replacement of its four hydraulic seals, technicians now are carrying out a series of tests on the system. Once these tests are concluded on Saturday and the repairs have been determined successful, the way would be cleared for Discovery's move on Sunday from its processing hangar at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to the Vehicle Assembly Building. Depending on how processing operations go, rollout to the launch pad could take place one week later.

One of Discovery’s struts, which act as shock absorbers during the shuttle's landing, began leaking hydraulic fluid last week.

Once Discovery is in the Vehicle Assembly Building, it will be attached to its external fuel tank and two solid rocket boosters for its upcoming mission, STS-120, to the International Space Station.

While NASA managers will continue to assess the progress, the ongoing preparations would still support Discovery’s Oct. 23 target launch date.


Source: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/main/index.html

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Shuttle Discovery probably back on schedule

Shuttle Discovery with re-assembled strut
On the picture, you can see the shuttle strut being reassembled. That's actually a great relief to me.


This article does a full wrap-up and analysis of the current state:

http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/content/?cid=5234

As it looks, the launch date for Discovery's STS-120 mission will only slip nominally, if at all. The engineers have done superb work today, managed the repair that was scheduled for a few days in just one morning - congrats!

To me, that means my travel plans are so far unaffected. However, there is now no buffer time left, so everything else is on the critical path. But, hey, why should something else go wrong? :-D

I see that it was right not to panic, even while a larger launch slip was in question. I guess I'll manage to keep cool on other occasions, too (at least this is my current school of thinking ;)).

OK, enough good news for the evening.

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Shuttle Discovery is being repaired...


I have just read that the repairs on Discovery's strut are well under way.

I also found the nice picture showing how the landing gear is being disassembled. If you look closely, you can see the bottom part (right at the floor), where the tires normally sit. And right behind the head of the worker in front of the picture is the upper part of the strut, that one that is still connected to the space shuttle.

I am very glad to see these pictures, because they provide evidence that the repair seems to be on good track. I assume that there are now all needed spare parts available and work can continue to be carried out.

In the mean time, several space forums on the web report that there will probably be a slip in the launch date, but it is not expected to be extreme. So maybe I loose a day or two of "my launch" window, but I think chances are still pretty high I'll make it. When I first heard about all that, I wondered if I should change my travel plans. Especially air travel to Orlando is a bit problematic. But today everything is unclear. If I move the dates, I'll probably miss the launch when it is on time (and as of NASA's official site, there still is a chance). I stay tuned...

Update: I found some new pictures, find them at http://www.gerhards.net/Gallery-sts_120_strut_repair.phtml (thumbs below).


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space shuttle troubles...

Space Shuttle Strut Repair
Yesterday, some info leaked that the shuttle ... well, leaked ;) To be serious, there were reports that there is an unacceptable leak at a shuttle strut - hydraulics fluid seems to have been leaking. But yesterday the decision was made that a repair is actually needed.

Of course, it didn't take long for all sorts of rumors to appear. Some sources even said that the October mission would be canceled and moved to January - which is as far from being true as it only can be. In fact, the NASA source quoted above does not outrule there is a change in the launch date, but it is expected to be not a major hit. As far as I understand it, things may be moved a few days at most. There seem to be buffers all along the process, so I do not yet begin to panic ;)

... but I have to admit that this triggers bad memories. As I said, I flew in into Orlando last year to see the STS-115 launch (which I finally didn't make due to its long delay). With STS-115, all the trouble also started with launch delays, that time caused by a lightning strike. That, too, was quite some time before launch, at least if I correctly remember. It was not that early as the current problem, which leaves me with the firm hope that there is enough buffer time available even to launch on the target date of October, 23rd. Let's see...

Photo: In the Orbiter Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, workers secure the tool storage assembly unit into Discovery's payload bay. Photo credit: NASA/Amanda Diller

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

viewing a space shuttle launch...

Space Shuttle Launch
As some of you know, I am addicted to astronomy and space travel. Since long, I'd wanted to experience a space shuttle launch. Last summer, I got tickets for the STS-115 mission. I went down to Florida, went through a hurricane and ... had to leave without the shuttle being launched. Well, actually I could view it rocketing into space from far away (Fort Myers) when I had to leave home. That was really bad luck.

Unfortunately, I either could not go for the next missions or I didn't manage to get tickets (they sell out soooooo quickly that it is a real problem even if you type fast ;)).

Now, I was lucky enough to secure tickets and also manged to get enough vacancy to do a re-try. I am going to visit the STS-120 mission now. We'll fly in to Orlando and then move over to the Titusville/Cocoa Beach area. Getting it all together was far from being simple.

After I got the launch tickets, I needed to get flights and then find hotels. This list is sorted in descending order or rareness ;) While I had only a 3-minute shot at obtaining the tickets, the flights were quite complicated too. Hotels were available, but of course not those I hoped to find. Based on experience from fellow travelers, Titusville seems to have only one decent hotel. I can back this, as I found none on my previous trips. The one in question is the Hampton. Everybody seems to know, and I didn't get a room for the 22nd ;) But everybody also seems to expect the shuttle to take off on first launch attempt - because starting from the 23rd there were vacancies. I secured some of them ;)

I hope to have a really great launch experience. I hope I'll find time to post more of my experiences on the way to the launch here in the blog. I'll probably even start a STS-120 section on my site www.gerhards.net - let's see :)

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Space Blog mission Statement ;)

As time progresses, things change. This is also true for blogs. When I started this blog, it was all about my STS-120 launch viewing trip. But then I discovered the beauty of blogging and converted it more and more in a general space related blog.

This is where we are right now: This blog is about space and space flight in general. For obvious reasons, it covers space shuttle launch and operations, but I also keep a keen eye on the Constellation program with the Ares launches and Orion crew exploration vehicle. And, of course, the international space station ISS and its helpers (including the European ATV) are also on-topic.

I try to convey news but with my personal point of view. Feedback is highly appreciated and reader stories are posted when I receive them (of course, assuming that they are on-topic).

I hope you have fun reading this blog. Feedback is always welcome.

For completeness, here are previous mission statements:

Up until mid-November 2007:

This is my blog about viewing Space Shuttle launches. I have tried once in Summer 2006 (with no success) and will retry in October of 2007 for the STS-120 mission. I blog about my travel preparations, things that come to my mind and the overall experience. [read more about what's in this blog]

This blog is about viewing space shuttle launches. To be even more precise, it is about me trying to view a shuttle launch. I hope it will be interesting to you to hear about my fate when trying to actually see it.

I have already tried once, in summer 2006. That time, it was the STS-115 mission, which were endlessly delayed due to a number of issues. But that's another topic. If I find time, I'll try to dig out my past travel logs and convert them to blog posts. Will see ;)

But, hey, why read this blog? First of all, you will probably have a good laugh at what I am trying when it gets problematic [and I bet it will] ;) Other than that, you may possibly want to go yourself one day. In that case, you can probably learn a bit out of my experiences(and, yes, I plan to write about the cool things, too ;)). Some may even claim that they somehow feel closer to the launch experience if the read the notes of someone who does.

And, remember: the last shuttle is set to rocket off Kennedy Space Center in 2010 - so if you want to experience a launch, there is not much time left! Better you be prepared.

So - have fun and keep reading. I will possible save this post as a reference and update it from time to time.

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