USA Proposes Keeping Shuttle Alive Until 2017

Space shuttle Atlantis lands on runway 33 at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility concluding the STS-129 mission. Photo credit: NASA Jack Pfaller

Some interesting news from Rob Coppinger:

NASA is considering a plan to keep the space shuttle Endeavour in flight-like condition after its last scheduled mission, a move that could lead to its transformation into a privatized spaceship rather than a museum piece.

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NASA Sets Extra Space Shuttle Mission for June 28

NASA MISSION UPDATE

On Thursday, the Space Shuttle Program baselined the STS-135 mission for a target launch date of June 28. It is NASA’s intent to fly the mission with orbiter Atlantis carrying the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module to deliver supplies, logistics and spare parts to the International Space Station. The mission also will fly a system to investigate the potential for robotically refueling existing spacecraft and return a failed ammonia pump module to help NASA better understand the failure mechanism and improve pump designs for future systems.
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Discovery Set to Launch No Earlier Than Feb. 24

Repair work to space shuttle Discovery's external fuel tank begins in the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Technicians will modify 32 support beams, called stringers, on the tank's intertank region by fitting pieces of metal, called radius blocks, over the stringers' edges where they attach to the thrust panel area. Photo credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller

NASA MISSION UPDATE

Space shuttle Discovery remains in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) as modifications and repairs are made to the external fuel tank’s support beams known as “stringers.” Additional support structures called radius blocks are being added to 95 stringers, meaning the entire circumference of the external tank will be strengthened by the time all the repairs and modifications are finished.

“It’s been a long road,” said John Shannon, Space Shuttle Program manager. “I’m very confident we have it finally figured out and we have a fix. We’re going to fly with a lot of confidence in this tank.”

Discovery will not launch on the STS-133 mission before Feb. 24, but shuttle managers have not yet chosen a target date for the mission. The schedule depends in part on traffic at the International Space Station during that time frame. A European cargo spacecraft, ATV-2, is scheduled to launch to the station Feb. 15 carrying supplies and equipment.

NASA Postpones Shuttle Launch to at Least Late February

Repair work to space shuttle Discovery's external fuel tank begins in the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Technicians will modify 32 support beams, called stringers, on the tank's intertank region by fitting pieces of metal, called radius blocks, over the stringers' edges where they attach to the thrust panel area. Photo credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller

NASA MISSION UPDATE
Jan. 7, 2011

NASA managers are evaluating potential launch dates for space shuttle Discovery in late February and working to see if International Space Station on orbit operations would allow a launch as early as Feb. 24. More will be known next week and managers hope to set a launch date by the end of next week.

Progress continues to be made in understanding the most probable cause of cracks discovered on Discovery’s external tank mid-section, known as the intertank, where small cracks developed during the Nov. 5, 2010, launch attempt. Four additional small cracks were found during thorough X-ray of the backside of the tank after Discovery was returned to the Vehicle Assembly Building before Christmas.

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Bolden Mourns End of Shuttle Program, Looks Forward to Commercial Future

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden spoke at the AIAA New Horizons Forum in Orlando on Wednesday. His talk focused largely on the successes of the space shuttle program that is set to end later this year. He also  touch upon three topics that will impact NASA’s future: commercial crew and cargo delivery to the International Space Station, the development of a heavy-lift vehicle, and the additional of an extra space shuttle flight.

I’ve excerpted four relevant passages from the speech. The full address follows after the excerpt.

As we move toward a true commercial capability for reaching low Earth orbit, it seems people are yearning even more for routine access to space – one of the unfilled promises of the original space transportation system. With greater commercial access to LEO, we’re going to open up an entirely new segment of the economy and with this will come new high tech jobs. I hope we can all agree – as a nation, we’re ready for that. We know we can do it; in part because of all that we have learned from shuttle, and the fact that we have flown more than 130 missions to space – more than any other NASA human spaceflight program.

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Bolden: Third Shuttle Flight Would Be Safe

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

After months of relative silence, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden re-emerged this week to talk about the space agency’s future. Speaking at an AIAA conference in Orlando, Bolden discussed the upcoming space shuttle schedule and his aim to ensure that NASA’s is undertaking realistic missions in a sustainable way.

Florida Today reports that an additional shuttle mission to supplement the final two ones of the books is on the agenda, despite uncertainty in the space agency’s funding levels caused by Congress’ failure to approve the FY2011 budget:

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden today reiterated a commitment to fly a third shuttle mission this year and said the agency has determined the mission would be safe.

The 2010 NASA Authorization Act requests the flight pending an assessment of its safety, which Bolden said is not yet final. Since no rescue shuttle would be available, the mission dubbed STS-135 would rely in Soyuz spacecraft to gradually return crew members from the International Space Station.

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NASA Repairing Cracks on Space Shuttle External Tank

Image above: Technician is getting ready to take a computed radiography (CR) image scan of the tank. The red machine in the foreground is the CR device. Photo credit: NASA/Frankie Martin

NASA PROGRAM UPDATE
Jan. 3, 2010

Space shuttle Discovery remains inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where technicians today are starting repairs on three support beams, called stringers, on the outside of the shuttle’s external tank. Recent X-ray type image scans of all 108 of the tank’s stringers revealed four small cracks on three beams on the side opposite Discovery. Managers decided Thursday to have those cracks repaired in a similar fashion to repairs made on cracks found on two stringers after Discovery’s Nov. 5 launch attempt.

Also beginning today is another round of imaging — this time, using the backscatter method — on all of the tank’s stringers. Engineers at various NASA centers continue to analyze testing and imaging data.

The repair work is estimated to take 2-3 days. Any further work will be evaluated thoroughly during the week after additional data and analysis are reviewed.

Managers also continue to evaluate an option to perform known and practiced modifications on some stringers. Before breaking for the holiday, technicians reconfigured scaffolding to provide access for the modification work, should it be required. A decision may be made on that work as early as today.

The next available launch date for Discovery’s STS-133 mission to the International Space Station remains Feb. 3 at the opening of a window that extends through Feb. 10.

The Space Review Looks to the Future

This week in The Space Review….

Space challenges for 2011
A new year brings new hopes for the future, but plenty of challenges as well. Jeff Foust outlines some of the key issues facing civil and commercial spaceflight in the coming year, from budget battles to the end of the shuttle program.

Peace
International cooperation in space can pay dividends on Earth as well as in space. Lou Friedman argues that it’s time to properly recognize the role that civil space cooperation can play in enhancing national security.

What’s in a number?
For decades the US Air Force used a series of program numbers to identify classified programs. Dwayne Day recaps the effort to link those numbers with specific programs.

Reviews: Envisioning the universe
It’s an ongoing challenge for astronomers and writers to properly convey the scale and nature of the universe. Jeff Foust reviews two new publications, one a conventional book and the other an iPad app, that try different ways of describing the solar system and beyond.

NASA Postpones Discovery Launch Until February

NASA MISSION UPDATE

NASA managers have targeted space shuttle Discovery’s launch for no earlier than Feb. 3 at 1:34 a.m. EST. Shuttle managers determined more tests and analysis are needed before proceeding with the launch of the STS-133 mission to the International Space Station.

The Program Requirements Control Board met Thursday and reviewed engineering evaluations associated with cracks on two 21-foot-long, U-shaped aluminum brackets, called stringers, on the shuttle’s external tank. NASA repaired the cracks and reapplied foam to the exterior of the stringers.

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NASA Delays Discovery Launch Until at Least Dec. 17

NASA MISSION UPDATE

NASA managers have targeted space shuttle Discovery’s launch for no earlier than Dec. 17. Shuttle managers determined more tests and analysis are needed before proceeding with the STS-133 mission. The launch status meeting planned for Monday, Nov. 29, has been postponed and will be rescheduled.

The Program Requirements Control Board reviewed on Wednesday repairs and engineering evaluations associated with cracks on two 21-foot-long, U-shaped aluminum brackets, called stringers, on the shuttle’s external tank. Managers decided the analysis and tests required to launch Discovery safely are not complete. The work will continue through next week.

The next status review by the PRCB will be Thursday, Dec. 2. If managers clear Discovery for launch on Dec. 17, the preferred time is about 8:51 p.m. EST.

Final Discovery Mission Rescheduled for Night Launch on Dec. 3

NASA MISSION UPDATE
Nov. 19, 2010

At yesterday’s Program Requirements Control Board, or PRCB, the Space Shuttle Program clearly identified the analysis and repairs that are required to safely launch shuttle Discovery on its STS-133 mission. This analysis will be reviewed at a special PRCB on Wednesday, Nov. 24. Pending a successful review of the flight rationale at that meeting, a Launch Status Briefing would be held with senior NASA management on Monday, Nov. 29.

The Launch Status Briefing and news conference planned for Monday, Nov. 22 are cancelled. The Kennedy Space Center “Call-to-Stations” to begin the launch countdown will be no earlier than Nov. 30, supporting a first launch attempt no earlier than Dec. 3 at about 2:52 a.m. EST.

The STS-133 crew members are Commander Steven Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Michael Barratt, Tim Kopra and Nicole Stott.

Discovery will deliver and install the Permanent Multipurpose Module, the Express Logistics Carrier 4 and provide critical spare components to the International Space Station. This will be the 35th shuttle mission to the station.

LEGO Shuttle Headed for Space Aboard Real Shuttle

NASA SAA UPDATE

A LEGO space shuttle headed to orbit helps mark the Tuesday signing of a Space Act Agreement between NASA and The LEGO Group to spark children’s interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

To commemorate the beginning of this partnership, the small LEGO shuttle will launch with the crew of the space shuttle Discovery on its STS-133 mission, targeted to launch Nov. 30 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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