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By | February 12, 2007

      Space Shuttle Atlantis Moves To Vehicle Assembly Building

      Space Shuttle Atlantis was transported to the Vehicle Assembly Building to prepare for launch next month.

      After being fitted with its external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters, Atlantis will roll to Launch Pad 39A on Wednesday.

      Liftoff is set for 6:43 a.m. ET on March 15, a day earlier than originally planned.

      While sitting in the transfer isle of the VAB, the orbiter will be fitted with two bridge cranes that will lift it vertically, to position it for mating to the external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters — already in place on the mobile launcher platform.

      Mission STS-117 will be the first launch at Pad 39A in four years.

      The mission will continue the race to complete construction of the International Space Station (ISS) by 2010, when the shuttle fleet is slated to be retired. Only shuttles have the size and muscle to boost huge ISS segments into orbit.

      On the next space shuttle flight to continue constructing the station, the Atlantis crew will install a new truss segment, retract a set of solar arrays and unfold a new set on the starboard side of the station. The ISS building task was halted for years after Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated during reentry. Construction missions resumed with the launch of Atlantis last September, followed by a Space Shuttle Discovery mission in December that was the first nighttime launch in years.

      Lessons learned from those two previous missions will provide the astronauts with new techniques and tools to perform their duties.

      Commanding the Atlantis team this time is Frederick Sturckow, a veteran of two shuttle missions (STS-88, STS-105), while Lee Archambault will be making his first flight as the shuttle’s pilot.

      Mission Specialists James Reilly (STS-89, STS-104) and Patrick Forrester (STS-105) will be returning to the station.

      Steven Swanson and John Olivas, both mission specialists, join the crew for their first flight into space.

      The mission astronauts will return to Kennedy a few weeks before liftoff to participate in the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test. During this time they will practice launch activities, safety exercises, inspect the payload and conclude with a simulated main engine cut-off exercise.

      Arrow Missile Test, MDA BMD Target-Tracking Test, Succeed

      The Arrow Weapon System yesterday tested successfully, the Israeli Ministry of Defense announced.

      That test, the 15th for the interceptor, the 10th for the complete weapon system, is part of the Arrow System Improvement Program, or ASIP, which is being carried out jointly, by Israel and the United States

      Separately, elements of the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system tracked an Air Force missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announced.

      The test demonstrated the capability to acquire tracking data from multiple sources and meld them into a coherent picture, according to MDA.

      When the target of opportunity was launched, operational elements of the BMD system swung into action, including an Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense destroyer and an AN/TPY-2 transportable X-band radar.

      The sensor assets successfully detected and tracked the missile.

      Other participating sensors included the Airborne Infrared Surveillance/Plume (rocket motor exhaust) Acquisition Targeting System, the Sensor Netting Experiment and the External Sensors Laboratory.

      These sensors fed tracking data to the BMD Command, Control, Battle Management and Communications, or C2BMC, system.

      This test demonstrated the command and control system ability to integrate data from a number of different sensors to improve system accuracy and responsiveness in detecting, identifying, tracking and targeting hostile ballistic missiles.

      Minuteman III Tracking System Flies, Northrop Announces

      A range tracking system for the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) flew for the first time, according to Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC].

      The newly certified Global Positioning System (GPS) range tracking system that was developed by Northrop flew at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for the first time as one of the two independent tracking systems required for range safety.

      The GPS Metric Tracking System (GMTS) “will greatly improve capabilities for range users through more precise tracking, fewer range delays caused by radar downtime and significantly reduced launch support costs,” said John Clay, vice president and general manager of the Northrop Grumman ICBM Prime Contract.

      “This successful flight represents the excellent engineering support and coordination between the Air Force and the ICBM prime team and will further enhance our ability to deliver a reliable land-based strategic deterrent to our customer.”

      The GMTS replaces the C-band transponders previously used to track the Minuteman III test launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base. As directed by the Air Force Space Command, the C-band tracking system is to be deactivated in FY 2007 for cost savings and modernization. The C-band tracking radars use the onboard C-band transponder signal to lock onto the missile and track missile position and velocity.

      The Minuteman III incorporates GPS translators on the missile to receive information from the satellites and relay translated time and identification data to ground facilities. This data is used to more accurately calculate the position and velocity of the missile, which is required for range safety tracking during missile flight.

      Northrop Grumman is the Air Force ICBM prime integration contractor charged with modernizing and maintaining alert readiness of the ICBM weapon system through 2020. The company manages a team consisting of three principal teammates — Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and ATK — and more than 20 subcontractors.

      SpaceX Defers Launch From Late February To March 9 At Earliest

      The SpaceX Falcon 1 DemoFlight 2 launch at the Kwajalein Army Range now is postponed until March 9 at the earliest, from a window of mid- to late-February, SpaceX announced.

      And even the later date is iffy.

      There were multiple reasons for the delay.

      First, Kwajalein didn’t have sufficient resources to support the February window launch, because several range personnel critical to the launch safety process will be unavailable in that timeframe.

      Second, SpaceX discovered a problem with the second stage that warranted further inspection.

      Earlier, it was found that during final check-outs prior to static fire, there was an anomaly with the thrust vector control pitch actuator on the second stage, warranting a delay in launch until February.

      The further delay to March will give SpaceX more time to check out these systems.

      Separately, after the upcoming demonstration flight, Falcon 1 is scheduled to launch a satellite for the Naval Research Laboratory (funded by the Office of Force Transformation) in late summer.

      After that, there will be a launch of a satellite for the Malaysian Space Agency late in the year.

      SpaceX also is building an additional Falcon 1 vehicle in the event that some promising customer discussions culminate in a fourth Falcon 1 launch this year, according to the company.

      China To Build Satellite Launching Center On Hainan Island

      China will build a new satellite launching center on Hainan Island, the same island where China held as prisoner two dozen Navy men and women in uniform almost six years ago.

      Then, a U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries II intelligence plane peacefully flying in international airspace was shadowed ever closer by a Chinese fighter plane, which finally collided with the Navy plane.

      With the U.S. plane badly damaged, the Navy crew sent an international distress signal, which China silently refused to acknowledge. And when the crew managed to land the crippled Navy plane at an airport on Hainan Island, the American military men and women were seized and the plane was ransacked for secret U.S. intelligence information.

      Finally, the crew was held captive for more than a week until the United States apologized, “very sorry … very sorry” for the crew having saved their lives and plane by landing on the island.

      According to news media quoting the official Xinhua News Agency, the new launch center will be built at Wenchang, about 38 miles southeast of the provincial capital Haikou.

      To be called the Wenchang Satellite Launching Center, the facility also will include a rocket-assembling plant.

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