Shuttle Atlantis could launch a day sooner than planned
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: April 22, 2009
NASA managers are debating whether to move up launch of the shuttle Atlantis one day, from May 12 to May 11, to get as many launch opportunities as possible before standing down to make way for a military operation that requires support from the Air Force Eastern Range starting May 14, officials said Wednesday.
NASA is gearing up to launch the shuttle Atlantis on a fifth and final mission to service and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. The agency is aiming for a launch at 1:31 p.m. on May 12, but a military operation on the range, NASA sources say, will prevent any shuttle launch attempts for about a week starting May 14.
As a result, NASA is looking into moving the shuttle launch date up one day, which would give the agency three opportunities in a row if needed.
Shuttle managers held a program-level flight readiness review Tuesday. Another meeting was held Wednesday to discuss launch date options and managers decided to meet again Friday for additional discussions. An executive-level FRR is scheduled for next week to review launch processing and to set an official launch date.
Sources say Atlantis can support a May 11 launch, but it's not yet clear if Hubble engineers can complete pre-launch tests in time to support an accelerated schedule.
NASA is hoping to get Atlantis off as soon as possible to avoid any problems for the next shuttle mission, a space station assembly flight by shuttle Endeavour. Endeavour currently is mounted atop launch pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, on stand by for launch on an emergency rescue mission if the Atlantis astronauts run into any problems that might prevent a safe re-entry.
Assuming a rescue flight is not needed, Endeavour will be moved to pad 39A and prepared for launch June 13 on the station assembly flight. But NASA will only have one week to get Endeavour off the ground. A so-called "beta angle cutout" will kick in June 21, preventing any shuttle visits to the station until after July 11 because of temperature constraints related to the angle between the sun and the plane of the space station's orbit.
Moving up the Atlantis launch date by one day would buy one more day of insurance to get the Hubble mission off ahead of the military range operation and at the same time, provide more cushion for the June mission. If the Atlantis flight slips behind the range operation, Endeavour's flight would face a delay to mid July.