Spaceflight Now: STS-101 Mission Report

Launch logjam pushes Atlantis back to May 18

Posted: April 28, 2000

Atlantis is grounded until May 18. Photo: NASA/KSC
NASA managers have reluctantly decided to postpone shuttle Atlantis' space station repair mission until May 18 rather than delay next week's planned launch of a much-needed weather satellite.

The space agency had considered bumping the May 3 liftoff of the GOES-L satellite in favor of the shuttle rather than wait weeks for the next available launch date. But with hurricane season approaching, NASA's space flight chief Joe Rothenberg decided GOES should take priority over the shuttle.

The shuttle's mission will now slip to May 18, the first available launch slot from Cape Canaveral. Tracking and safety equipment, operated by the U.S. Air Force, is fully booked until then (see the Tracking Station for a full list of upcoming launches). A launch on the 18th would occur at about 6:33 a.m. EDT (1033 GMT).

Flight dynamics experts will spend the next week determining if the station's orbit must be refined to provide the shuttle with daily launch opportunities. Currently, a launch on May 18 would lead to a lengthy four-day rendezvous with the station. The 19th would be a more desirable flight day three docking and the 20th does not offer any docking opportunities.

Any adjustment of the station's orbit, using the Zarya module's thrusters, will not occur before May 6, according to a NASA status report.

GOES gets to go first
The $250 million GOES-L spacecraft is being launched as an insurance policy of sorts for NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, or GOES, program needs two working spacecraft orbiting 22,300 miles above the Earth's equator to provide the real-time weather data seen on TV news.

Artist's impression of the GOES-L weather satellite. Photo: NASA/GSFC
One satellite watches the U.S. East Coast and Atlantic Ocean -- currently GOES-8 launched in 1994 -- and the other -- GOES-10 launched in 1997 -- is stationed over the Pacific Ocean to monitor the U.S. West Coast and Hawaii.

Once in space, GOES-L will be tested and then placed into storage. It will be pressed into service when either GOES-8 or -10 fails.

GOES-8, needed for Atlantic hurricane tracking, has already exceeded its five-year life expectancy.

NOAA wants to the new GOES satellite in orbit as a backup during most of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs June 1 through October 31. GOES spacecraft are critical tools in tracking hurricanes, severe thunderstorms, flash floods and forecasting other severe weather.

"GOES satellites are a mainstay of weather forecasting in the United States," said Gerry Dittberner, NOAA's GOES program manager.

When Atlantis finally reaches the space station, its crew of seven astronauts will patch up faltering power systems, installing four new batteries, replacing three current converters and two current converter controllers. Russia will meet the $1.3 million cost of the replacement components.

The astronauts will also make a spacewalk to secure a loose crane and deliver more than one ton of supplies to the station.

Justin Ray contributed to this report.

Pre-launch briefing
STS-101 index - See a listing off all our STS-101 stories and coverage.

Mission preview - A special report package on Atlantis' repair mission and its astronauts.

Meet the crew - Get to know the seven astronauts that will fly aboard shuttle Atlantis.

Launch timeline - Chart with times and descriptions of events to occur during the launch.

Video vault
Atlantis' launch is postponed a third time because of weather. Rain, cloud and winds at the emergency landing sites in Africa and Spain are blamed.
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NASA launch director Dave King announces Atlantis' launch is scrubbed for a second time due to high crosswinds at the Shuttle Landing Facility.
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The seven-member crew of space shuttle Atlantis leave their quarters on Tuesday for a second launch attempt.
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NASA launch director Dave King announces the launch is scrubbed due to high crosswinds at the Shuttle Landing Facility.
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The sun sets on launch complex 39A and the rotating service structure is pulled away from the shuttle. One hour is compressed into seconds in this time lapsed video.
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