Domino Effect To Schedule Impacts Future Missions
On Friday, NASA shuttle program managers announced February 7 as
the target launch date for Atlantis' STS-122 mission to the
International Space Station, and mid-March for the launch of
Endeavour on STS-123 -- each date two months later than originally
The first opportunity for liftoff of Atlantis from Kennedy Space
Center will be at 1447 EST.
As ANN reported, Atlantis was
scheduled to liftoff in early December on the latest construction
mission to the ISS, but a malfunction in two of the four engine
cut-off sensors inside the tank scrapped the launch -- as well as a
second attempt four days later.
The sensors detect the level of liquid hydrogen in the fuel
tank, to determine when to shut down the shuttle's three main
engines. Failure of the sensors could shut the engines down too
early, or, conversely, run them dry -- the latter a catastrophic
scenario. An on-pad test of the fuel system revealed the likely
cause of the glitch -- a connector that feeds wiring through the
skin of the external tank, and mates up with the orbiter.
Engineers are now installing another connector, complete with
newly-soldered pins and other modifications, in the tank on the
launch pad. Technicians spliced in new wires Friday (shown below),
NASA spokesman George Diller told The Associated Press, and the new
connector will be installed Saturday.
To accommodate the revised launch schedule, NASA needed a little
help from the Russian Federal Space Agency -- and they got it.
Russia agreed to move up its Progress launch from February 7 to
February 5, which enables both STS-122 and STS-123 to launch before
the next Russian Soyuz mission in early April.
NASA says the new schedule will allow astronauts assigned to the
space station's Expedition 16 crew to complete the tasks they have
trained for, including support of the launch and docking of Jules
Verne, the first European Space Agency Automated Transfer
Atlantis' main objective during its STS-122 mission to the
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
NASA managers will meet in the coming weeks to address the
schedule of remaining shuttle flights beyond STS-123. NASA had
aimed for six shuttle flights in 2007, though there are many
questions whether the space agency will be able to accomplish that
(Photos courtesy of NASA)