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By | October 23, 2006

      External Tanks May Delay Some Shuttle Launches

      NASA officials are considering a proposal to delay some space shuttle launches by weeks, because of timetables for the external fuel tanks, a NASA spokesman said.

      The revised launches schedule for next year is “under review,” said Kyle Herring, the spokesman.

      First up next year would be a launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis, which instead of lifting off Feb. 22 might go up March 16, with subsequent launches possibly occurring June 28 and Sept. 7.

      There also are to be two more launches later in 2007, but they aren’t the focus of the schedule revision proposal, Herring said.

      The next shuttle launch will be the last one this year, in a window for Space Shuttle Discovery to head aloft no earlier than Dec. 7, a mission in which astronauts will rewire the International Space Station (ISS) after Space Shuttle Atlantis recently delivered an enormous structural truss and electrical-generating solar array to the ISS.

      That launch, set for 9:38 p.m. ET Dec. 7, will be the first night launch in years.

      Possible shuttle launch delays stem from an unavoidable slowdown in processing external fuel tanks for the shuttles.

      Two causes lie behind the slowdown. One is the devastating force of Hurricane Katrina that struck the Michoud Assembly Facility, located in New Orleans, a city that suffered the heaviest hit from the mega-storm.

      That NASA facility has come back much of the way to erasing evidence of the storm, Herring said.

      Another cause of external fuel tank delays stems from reworking them to make shuttle flights safer.

      In 2003, foam insulation broke loose from the external tank on Space Shuttle Columbia after it launched, with the chunk of foam punching a hole in the leading edge of a wing on the orbiter vehicle. The damage wasn’t identified as the shuttle soared on its science mission.

      Later, when Columbia began reentry, fiery hot gases in the atmosphere rushed inside the wing, heated structural elements and caused the loss of the vehicle and crew.

      To avert any recurrence, NASA instituted rigorous, painstaking and repeated inspections of each shuttle vehicle after it reaches orbit, to spot any damage that might have been caused by foam insulation particles.

      But foremost, NASA has moved to lessen the risk of foam insulation breaking off from an external fuel tank in the first place. That has involved actions ranging from removing the protuberance air load ramps from tanks, to lessening or eliminating use of foam insulation at some spots on the tank.

      And the fixes thus far have worked well.

      In the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on July 4, and then the weather-delayed launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis Sept. 9, only minor bits of foam have broken loose, and even then they broke free too late in the shuttle ascent to harm the orbiter vehicle.

      Launches have been conducted thus far in daylight, so that video cameras can spot any foam pieces striking the orbiter vehicle, and the cameras confirmed there were no giant chunks of foam ripping loose.

      Atlantis did, to be sure, suffer a minor hole in a cargo bay door that apparently was caused by a micrometeorite, but it was not in a place where the orbiter is subject to extreme heating during reentry.

      Starsem Soyuz Launcher Lofts MetOp-A Satellite

      A Soyuz launcher boosted a European meteorological satellite into orbit, after repeated delays.

      The lifter was a Soyuz 2-1a, an enhanced version of the Soyuz launcher, according to Starsem.

      MetOp-A is the first European polar-orbiting satellite for operational meteorology, Starsem stated.

      The Soyuz blasted away from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It was 1,714th launch of a Soyuz family rocket.

      Starsem and its Russian partners confirmed that the Fregat orbital stage accurately injected Eumetsat’s MetOp-A satellite into its sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). The Fregat upper stage was ignited twice to place MetOp-A into orbit 1 hour, 8 minutes after lift-off.

      The MetOp-A satellite will provide more precise details about atmospheric temperature and moisture profiles, invaluable for weather forecasting and climate monitoring, according to Starsem.

      That MetOp program was established jointly by the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (Eumetsat) and the European Space Agency. Their main partners in this co-operative venture are the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales in France and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

      For this flight, Starsem used the upgraded Soyuz 2-1a, flown with the new ST fairing.

      The 2-1a configuration features improved navigation accuracy and control capability provided by a digital control system, according to Starsem. That 2-1a version also enables Starsem to introduce the ST payload fairing with an external diameter of 4.1 meters (13.45 feet) and a length of 11.4 meters (37.4 feet).

      This latest successful launch by Soyuz reflects the industrial capabilities of the Samara Space Center (TsSKB-Progress) and the skills of all the operating teams, working under the authority of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos).

      Starsem is responsible for the international marketing and operation of Soyuz launchers. Its shareholders are Arianespace, the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. [EADS], Roscosmos and the Samara Space Center.

      AMRAAM Passes Surface-Launched Test Firing

      The Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) scored well in three surface-launched firings, Raytheon Co. [RTN] announced.

      Those launches, conducted at Sweden’s missile test range in Vidsel, Sweden, were executed with the Spanish Army and the U.S. Air Force, according to Raytheon.

      Those firings consisted of a telemetry shot against a sub-scale target drone, which resulted in a skin-to-skin hit, and two shots successfully demonstrating Raytheon’s new command destruct/self destruct (CD/SD) capability for AMRAAM in the surface launch mde.

      The CD/SD capability provides greater flexibility in the employment of Surface Launched AMRAAM (SL-AMRAAM) while engaging cruise missile and unmanned aerial vehicle threats.

      This capability helps mitigate collateral damage when used in a surface launch role within an urban environment, Raytheon explained.

      Additionally, CD/SD software provides the capability of a programmable self-destruct to help reduce fratricide.

      These successful tests concluded more than 24 months of work on the Software Upgrade Program 2006 for AMRAAM.

      The CD/SD tests complement a string of successful SL-AMRAAM firings that began in May with the Norwegian Air Force scoring seven direct hits at its Andoya Rocket Range in Norway, according to Raytheon.

      “These recent successes support the operational effectiveness of using the combat-proven AMRAAM in a ground-to-air role for U.S. and allied air defense forces,” said Randy Walters, Raytheon program manager for AMRAAM Surface Launch Applications.

      Space Systems/Loral Satellite Launched On Ariane 5 ECA To Serve DirecTV

      A satellite built by Space Systems/Loral [SS/L] called DIRECTV 9S went into geosynchronous orbit this month atop an Ariane 5 ECA rocket, according to Loral.

      The liftoff occurred at the Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, Loral announced.

      Space Systems/Loral is a subsidiary of Loral Space & Communications [LORL].

      The satellite is a high-powered, flexible, hybrid Direct Broadcast Satellite.

      It is a version of SS/L’s space-proven 1300 satellite platform tailored for DIRECTV’s payload requirements, and is similar to DIRECTV 7S, launched in May 2004, with the addition of two Ka-band transponders, according to Loral

      DIRECTV 9S will be positioned at 101 degrees West longitude. Weighing approximately 5,530 kilograms (12,190 pounds) at liftoff, DIRECTV 9S is fitted with 52 high-power Ku-band transponders and 2 Ka-band transponders, Loral noted.

      With a design life of 15 years, the satellite will provide direct broadcasts for local and national digital video service using advanced digital compression technology.

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