Latest News


By | May 5, 2008

      Space Shuttle Discovery Launch Still On For 5:02 P.M. ET May 31, But Some Later Shuttle Launches To Be Delayed Four Or Five Weeks

      NASA To Launch Five Missions This Year Instead Of Six

      Space Shuttle Discovery arrived on Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center this weekend and still is set for a 5:02 p.m. ET liftoff May 31, but some later shuttle missions this year will be delayed four to five weeks, meaning NASA will launch just five shuttle missions in 2008 instead of the planned six.

      However, the space agency still expects to finish its manifest of space shuttle missions by June or July 2010, meaning that main construction tasks will be completed on the International Space Station (ISS). The station will be 71 percent complete by mass, and will weigh 612,000 pounds after Discovery departs for a return trip to Earth in the STS-124 Mission. All told, the space station is becoming what a NASA briefer described as the size of a very large house, except this house is moving at 17,500 miles an hour at an altitude of more than 200 miles above the ground. Total habitable volume, not including racks holding scientific experiments, will be some 10,000 to 11,000 cubic feet.

      As the STS-124 Mission wraps up, half the shuttle missions will have been completed between the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster and the planned shuttle fleet retirement in 2010.

      Currently, the NASA launch schedule has Space Shuttle Atlantis lifting off Aug. 28 for a rescue and servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope, but because of delays in external tank production, "we cannot make that date," said John Shannon, space shuttle program manager, speaking to reporters at a briefing.

      That extra wait for tanks is well, however, because they are far better than the external tanks that fueled shuttles up through the last Columbia flight, according to NASA briefers, noting that multiple safety features have been added to the tanks.

      So the Atlantis launch will slip four to five weeks, winding up sometime in late September or early October, Shannon said. Because this telescope rescue mission doesn’t go to the ISS, which can act as a life-raft if problems arise on a shuttle, a backup shuttle must be sitting at the ready on a pad at Kennedy, ready to soar into orbit if Atlantis encounters problems during launch and ascent.

      To recap all the shuttle launch schedule changes:

      The impending Discovery launch already was postponed from an earlier scheduled May 25 blastoff to the current May 31 ascent date.

      Then the Atlantis mission to service Hubble is delayed from Aug. 28 to late September or early October.

      In turn, the Space Shuttle Endeavour STS-126 Mission to the ISS is delayed from Oct. 16 another four or five weeks.

      Finally, the Discovery STS-119 Mission to the ISS now set for liftoff Dec. 4 will be pushed into next year.

      The STS-124 Mission

      That imminent Discovery launch May 31 on a 13-day mission that can be extended to 15 days will be, literally, heavy lifting.

      The space shuttle will strain to lift a gigantic additional section of the Japanese Kibo (meaning "hope") laboratory into orbit, so that it can be affixed to the space station.

      This monster room, in the full gravitational pull as it sits on Earth, weighs more than 32,000 pounds, which is more than four times the heft of a very large sport utility vehicle. The lab section will fill the Discovery cargo bay so full that a grappling arm had to be left on the space station in a prior mission to make extra room for the lab.

      Also, a camera on an arm had to be tied down so it wouldn’t strike the laboratory in the cargo bay, so NASA will be limited in its post-launch and ascent examination of the orbiter vehicle when it reaches orbit, to check for possible damage. A full, detailed arm check of the orbiter vehicle and its critical heat shields will be performed after Discovery undocks from the space station, a thorough review that normally would have been performed before docking, in Day 2 of the mission.

      The orbiter also will be ogled as usual with the now-routine rendezvous pitch maneuver, the back-flip of the orbiter vehicle as it approaches the space station, so the station crew can photograph and examine the underside of the orbiter for any damage that might have occurred during launch and ascent.

      NASA is very sensitive about checking for damage, ever since a chunk of foam insulation ripped loose from an external fuel tank and smashed a hole in the leading edge of a wing on Space Shuttle Columbia in a 2003 ascent to orbit. The damage later caused the loss of both ship and crew of seven during an attempted return to Earth.

      One question is whether the Kibo laboratory, designed like other parts of the space station to last 15 years, will have its life cut short at eight years, because the space station hasn’t received authorization to be operated longer than that. But Suffredini said the United States and its partners are discussing extending the life of the space station another five to 10 years beyond the 2016 sunset date.

      As the multi-nation orbital outpost has grown, it has begun involving more nations on Earth, so that various segments of the artificial moon are controlled by five different major control centers, rather than ground control being focused just in Houston and Moscow.

      And the population on the station is poised to grow, doubling from three to six as new quarters are installed next spring.

      Aside from dramatic moves such as adding a huge new segment to the station, there will be plenty of routine work, some of it requiring spacewalks.

      For example, spacewalkers will have to play car mechanic and attempt to repair, or at least to clean up, a problem mechanical part, the Solar Alpha Rotary Joint (SARJ), which is supposed to keep gigantic solar array electrical generating panels pointed properly toward the sun so that they generate maximum electrical power.

      Dirt appeared on the SARJ, on a ring, so spacewalkers will attempt to clean the ring, and also will try to ensure that none of those dark spots is actually a dent, or divot, in the ring.

      Installation of a trundle bearing, work on a carbon dioxide unit, and other tasks must be performed in the mission.

      Israel Aerospace Industries Satellite Launched

      An Israel Aerospace Industries AMOS 3 communications satellite launched on a Zenit launcher from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

      The satellite is proceeding to its final orbital slot at 4 degrees west. Initial tests of satellite systems showed them functioning properly. The Geosynchronous Orbit operations and further testing are progressing on schedule.

      IAI President & CEO Itzhak Nissan said that the "AMOS 3 communication satellite … will join AMOS 1 and AMOS 2 satellites, which were also built by IAI. AMOS 3 is at the forefront of communication satellites in the world. This is another achievement to Israel Aerospace Industries, which is the prime contactor for all space-related programs in Israel."

      Nissan added that all AIA "satellites have exceeded their scheduled lifetime and have provided performance beyond our expectations."

      AMOS 3 was built for Space Communications Co. (Spacecom), operator of the AMOS 1 and AMOS 2 broadcast and communication satellites. Spacecom service areas include Europe, the Middle-East and North America. Spacecom provides trans-Atlantic connectivity between the U.S. East Coast and the Middle-East. AMOS 3 communications satellite, with its improved capabilities, will allow Spacecom to broaden its line of services.

      IAI is currently developing the next generation AMOS 4 communications satellite, which will substantially contribute to the ability of Spacecom to supply a wide range of communication service to its customers.

      Test Shows Older Solid Rocket Boosters Still Work

      A test firing of an old space shuttle solid rocket booster shows they still work well.

      Those boosters motors are certified for flight for five years from the date they’re made, but some are seven years old.

      A four-segment motor tested last week is the oldest ever fired. The test further substantiates the certification that was established by NASA at the beginning of the shuttle program.

      The test also provided important information for continued launches of the shuttle and development of the Ares I rocket, a key component of the Constellation Program that will launch the Orion crew vehicle on missions to the moon.

      The test measured external sound, or acoustics, to help define motor-generated external loads for Ares I. This data will assist in final design of the launch structure for Ares I rockets by engineers from NASA and ATK Launch Systems Group of Promontory, Utah.

      Preliminary indications are that all test objectives were met. After final test data are analyzed, results for each objective will be published later this year.

      The test provided an opportunity to compare performance data from two motors of different ages to validate midlife and full-life certification of their components. The segments tested originally were stacked at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., in 2002 and returned to Utah in 2004. As a result of this test, engineers will better understand the effects of aging and exposure to different climates for extended periods of time.

      Each space shuttle launch requires the power of two reusable solid rocket booster motors to help lift the 4.5-million-pound shuttle vehicle.

      They burn for approximately 123 seconds and generate an average thrust of 2.6 million pounds. In the test, the motor generated 3.3 million pounds maximum thrust for two minutes, which is the same time each reusable solid rocket motor burns during a space shuttle launch.

      The space shuttle reusable solid rocket motor is the largest ever to fly. It is the only solid rocket motor rated for human flight and the first designed for reuse. Two motors provide 90 percent of the thrust needed to launch the space shuttle.

      The Reusable Solid Rocket Booster Project Office manages the tests.

      ATK Launch Systems Group, a unit of Alliant Techsystems Inc., manufactures space shuttle solid rocket motors.

      The test was performed to improve performance and ensure safety of the space shuttle and to aid development of the first stage of Ares I.

      That test included 32 objectives, with the main two being validation of the age-life certification of the motor and measuring the acoustics, or sound, emitted from the booster when it fires.

      Validating the booster age-life certification was performed by comparing it to its twin booster that was test fired three years ago. Both boosters were manufactured at the same time using the same components. They were shipped to the Kennedy Space Center and subsequently stacked then de-stacked before being returned to Utah.

      Another main test objective is gathering data to aid in the development of the new Ares I vehicle and its launch pad. More than 20 microphones were installed at the test site to collect information that will help predict the lift-off acoustics for Ares I. By collecting acoustic environment measurements, engineers can make better predictions of how the sound will affect the surrounding area. The shuttle program uses massive sprayers, called the water deluge system, to reduce the acoustic effects of the space shuttle propulsion systems as it lifts off. A similar system is being developed for the Ares I and data collected from this test will play an important role in the final design.

      NASA’s Shuttle and Rocket Missions


      (Please see story in this issue.)

      A variety of vehicles, launch sites on both U.S. coasts, shifting dates and times… the NASA Launch Schedule is easy to decipher by checking out Launch Schedule 101 that explains how it all works.

      Updated — April 25, 2008 – 2:45 p.m. EDT

      Legend: + Targeted For | *No Earlier Than (Tentative) | **To Be Determined

      2008 Launches

      Date: **(under assessment)

      Mission: GLAST

      Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Delta II

      Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station – Launch Complex 17 – Pad 17-B

      Description: An heir to its successful predecessor — the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory — the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope will have the ability to detect gamma rays in a range of energies from thousands to hundreds of billions of times more energetic than the light visible to the human eye. Radiation of such magnitude can only be generated under the most extreme conditions, thus GLAST will focus on studying the most energetic objects and phenomena in the universe.

      Date: May 31 +

      Mission: STS-124

      Launch Vehicle: Space Shuttle Discovery

      Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center – Launch Pad 39A

      Launch Time: 5:02 p.m. EDT

      Description: Space shuttle Discovery on mission STS-124 will transport the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module – Pressurized Module (JEM-PM) and the Japanese Remote Manipulator System (JEM-RMS) to the International Space Station.

      Date: June 15

      Mission: OSTM

      Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Delta II

      Launch Site: Vandenberg Air Force Base – Launch Pad SLC-2

      Launch Window: 1:47 – 1:56 a.m. PDT/4:47 – 4:56 a.m. EDT

      Description: The Ocean Surface Topography Mission on the Jason-2 satellite will be a follow-on to the Jason mission.

      Date: Aug. 9 *


      Mission: IBEX

      Launch Vehicle: Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL Rocket

      Launch Site: Reagan Test Site, Kwajalein Atoll

      Description: IBEX’s science objective is to discover the global interaction between the solar wind and the interstellar medium and will achieve this objective by taking a set of global energetic neutral atom images that will answer four fundamental science questions.

      Date: Aug. 28 +

      Mission: STS-125

      Launch Vehicle: Space Shuttle Atlantis

      Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center – Launch Pad 39A

      Description: Space Shuttle Atlantis will fly seven astronauts into space for the fifth and final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. During the 11-day flight, the crew will repair and improve the observatory’s capabilities through 2013.

      Date: Sept. 14 +

      Mission: TacSat-3

      Launch Vehicle: Orbital Sciences Minotaur Rocket

      Launch Site: Wallops Flight Facility – Goddard Space Flight Center

      Description: NASA will support the Air Force launch of the TacSat-3 satellite, managed by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate. TacSat-3 will demonstrate the capability to furnish real-time data to the combatant commander. NASA Ames will fly a microsat and NASA Wallops will fly the CubeSats on this flight in addition to providing the launch range.

      Date: Oct. 16 +

      Mission: STS-126

      Launch Vehicle: Space Shuttle Endeavour

      Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center – Launch Pad 39A

      Description: Space Shuttle Endeavour launching on assembly flight ULF2, will deliver a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module to the International Space Station.

      Date: Oct. 28

      Mission: LRO/LCROSS

      Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Atlas V

      Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station – Launch Complex 41

      Description: The mission objectives of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite are to advance the Vision for Space Exploration by confirming the presence or absence of water ice in a permanently shadowed crater at either the Moon’s North or South Pole.

      Date: Nov. 5

      Mission: GOES-O

      Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Delta IV

      Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station – Launch Complex 17

      Description: NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are actively engaged in a cooperative program, the multimission Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite series N-P. This series will be a vital contributor to weather, solar and space operations, and science.

      Date: Dec. 1 *

      Mission: SDO

      Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Atlas V

      Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station – Launch Complex 41

      Description: The first Space Weather Research Network mission in the Living With a Star (LWS) Program of NASA.

      Date: Dec. 4 +

      Mission: STS-119

      Launch Vehicle: Space Shuttle Discovery

      Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center – Launch Pad 39A

      Description: Space Shuttle Discovery launching on assembly flight 15A, will deliver the fourth starboard truss segment to the International Space Station.

      Date: Dec. 15

      Mission: OCO

      Launch Vehicle: Orbital Sciences Taurus Rocket

      Launch Site: Vandenberg Air Force Base – Launch Pad SLC 576-E

      Description: The Orbiting Carbon Observatory is a new Earth orbiting mission sponsored by NASA’s Earth System Science Pathfinder Program.

      2009 Launches

      Date: Feb. 1

      Mission: NOAA-N Prime

      Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Delta II

      Launch Site: Vandenberg Air Force Base – Launch Pad SLC-2

      Description: NOAA-N Prime is the latest polar-orbiting satellite developed by NASA/Goddard Spaceflight Center for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA uses two satellites, a morning and afternoon satellite, to ensure every part of the Earth is observed at least twice every 12 hours. NOAA-N will collect information about Earth’s atmosphere and environment to improve weather prediction and climate research across the globe.

      Date: Feb. 16

      Mission: Kepler

      Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Delta II

      Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station – Launch Complex 17 – Pad 17-B

      Description: The Kepler Mission, a NASA Discovery mission, is specifically designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to detect and characterize hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone.

      Date: March 1

      Mission: Glory

      Launch Vehicle: Orbital Sciences Taurus Rocket

      Launch Site: Vandenberg Air Force Base – Launch Pad SLC 576-E

      Description: The Glory Mission will help increase our understanding of the Earth’s energy balance by collecting data on the properties of aerosols and black carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere and how the Sun’s irradiance affects the Earth’s climate

      Click on a tab to select how you'd like to leave your comment

      Leave a Reply