Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Atlantis now set to launch February, 7th

NASA has announced that Atlantis launch date will be no earlier than February, 7th. Unfortunately, I am currently extremely busy with my rsyslog project and don't have the usual time to report on launch progress. I hope to be able to resume the usual coverage soon. In the mean time, please let me quote NASA's shuttle home page:

Technicians at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida have completed the installation of the replacement feed-through connector in the engine cutoff sensor system to the internal connector. The feed-through connector passes the wires from the inside of the tank to the outside.

The pins in the replacement connector have been skillfully soldered to create a connection that allows sensors inside the tank to send signals to the computers onboard Atlantis.

The work is being done on Launch Pad 39A in anticipation of a launch date for mission STS-122 now targeted for Feb. 7 at 2:47 p.m. EST.

Atlantis' main objective during its STS-122 mission to the Internaltional Space Station is to install and activate the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory, which will provide scientists around the world the ability to conduct a variety of experiments in life, physical, and materials science, Earth observation and solar physics.

Shuttle Endeavour's STS-123 mission will deliver Kibo, the first section of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's laboratory module, and Dextre, Canada's new robotics system to the space station. The launch of Endeavour is targeted for mid-March.

NASA managers will meet in the coming weeks to address the schedule of remaining shuttle flights beyond STS-123.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

STS-122 Launch in early February?

As it looks, Atlantis will launch no earlier than February, 2nd on its STS-122 mission to the international space station. Some new problems have popped up and also been fixed since my last blog post. Unfortunately, I am currently quite busy with some of my projects and so I could not follow as closely as I usually did. However, I checked the status today and all in all it seems to look quite OK.

Tomorrow is another NASA PRCB meeting (they are each week on Thursdays). I expect that we will see an official status update on potential launch dates. In the mean time, tests on the external feedthrough connector removed from Atlantis' external tank are being conducted. This is not yet completed and it will be interesting to see the test results.

At the launch pad, the cables have been soldered to the connector, giving them a solid connection. This very same fix was applied to Atlas rockets with similar issues some years ago.

In short, there actually is currently not much to report. The wizards at NASA are working very hard to find the actual root cause and a good fix for the ECO sensor issue. There is not much definite know today because it all depends on the outcome of testing and analysis. So lets stay tuned for what's going on...

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Friday, January 4, 2008

Atlantis to launch on January, 24th?

The NASA space shuttle home page currently states that Atlantis could possibly launch on January, 24th. However, there are serious doubts about that date. From what I have found on the net, early February sounds much more realistic - with a launch on February, 2nd if there will be no further tanking test conducted. The most likely scenario, however, seems to be a launch no early then February, 8th.

Unfortunately, I am currently very busy with one of my projects and thus can not report more in-depth. That will follow hopefully soon. In the mean time, let me quote the NASA shuttle home page:

NASA flight control teams and ground operations teams have been requested to protect for a Jan. 24th launch date for Space Shuttle Atlantis. As work progresses, that date will be modified as required, says John Shannon, deputy manager for the Space Shuttle Program. The schedule depends on test results and modifications to a fuel sensor system connector on the external fuel tank Atlantis will use for launch on its STS-122 mission to the International Space Station. Other launch opportunities could come between Jan. 24th and the first week of February.

The connector suspected of prompting false readings during two previous launch attempts is undergoing intensive testing at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Engineers also will test potential modifications to the connector to certify it for flight. Marshall has a test facility that allows the connector to be subjected to the same conditions it saw during the earlier launch attempts.

The modification and testing plans were discussed along with the launch preparation schedule during a meeting of Space Shuttle Program managers Thursday.

Technicians at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., will modify a replacement connector for the one that was removed. Metal pins inside the connector will be soldered to the socket, Shannon explained. The new connector is scheduled to be in place by Jan. 10.

"We're fairly confident that if the problem is where we think it is, that this will solve that," Shannon said.

Atlantis remains at the launch pad as the agency studies ways to modify the connector. The shuttle will carry the European Space Agency’s Columbus laboratory to the space station during the STS-122 mission.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Shuttle Feedthrough Connector Removal Pictures

As a new year's gift, NASA has place twelve interesting pictures from the December, 29th removal of the feedthrough connector in the media gallery. The original format is quite a bit hard to read (at least in my opinion), so I thought I recompile them in this post.

The feedthrough connector was removed to be shipped to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center for further cryogenic testing. This is part of the ongoing space shuttle ECO sensor troubleshooting. If you doubt why further troubleshooting is needed, you may want to have a look at my "xmas decoration and space shuttle similarities" post ;)

Very interesting to see the technicians at work.

First, the external connector cable is cut:


Then, a pair of support brackets is removed:


Before disconnecting the connector assembly, it receives a cleaning, removing any residual foam insulation:


Then, the connector assembly, with its associated electrical harness, is pulled away from the tank:


Technicians set up equipment that will be used to take X-rays of the connector cable:


Then, the connector is disconnected before it is demated from the external tank:


And finally the demate occurs:


The technician then inspects the connector just removed from the external tank:


Technicians wrap the connector for transport to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., for further cryogenic testing:




... and place the wrapped connector in a shipping container:


... which is then finally carried away for transport to the Marshall Space Flight Center:

Nice work, guys! And now I am eager to hear about the testing results in MSFC! Stay tuned...

Image Credit for all pictures: NASA

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