NASA sets Wednesday launch date for shuttle Endeavour
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: June 15, 2009
NASA managers today formally cleared the shuttle Endeavour for a delayed launch Wednesday on a space station assembly mission. Launch of the agency's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter was delayed to June 18 or 19 to make room for the shuttle in an effort to maximize launch opportunities for both missions.
Endeavour was grounded Saturday when a gaseous hydrogen vent line umbilical seal leaked potentially dangerous vapor during fueling. Engineers replaced the seal and while the schedule is tight, NASA managers decided today to retarget the shuttle for launch at 5:40:50 a.m. EDT Wednesday.
The shuttle's countdown will be restarted at the T-minus 11-hour mark at 1:15 p.m. Tuesday and forecasters are predicting an 80 percent chance of good weather.
As it now stands, the Endeavour astronauts will have one shot at getting off the ground Wednesday. If the shuttle runs into additional problems, the flight likely will be delayed to July 11 because of temperature constraints related to the International Space Station's orbit.
"The agreement we've made with the Range and the Atlas LRO folks is that we will have one opportunity on the 17th and then stand down and allow them to play through," said NASA Test Director Steve Payne.
"We always plan a couple of days in the future in case some unforseen thing happens and (if) we have an opportunity, we're ready. The vehicle will be ready to make multiple attempts. Our only constraint is Range right now. If for some reason the constraint were lifted, we may have other opportunities."
But as of this writing, that does not appear likely as long as the $583 million Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission stays on track.
While the shuttle team presses ahead with work to ready Endeavour for launch, the LRO/LCROSS team is continuing processing for takeoff aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket at launch complex 41 at the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
NASA managers originally said a decision to launch Endeavour Wednesday would results in an LRO delay to Friday, at 6:41 p.m., because it typically takes the Air Force Eastern Range, which provides tracking and telemetry support, two days to reset its systems for a second launch.
But Charles Dovale, the NASA launch manager for the LRO/LCROSS mission, said today the agency had asked the Range to look into the possibility of supporting a launch on June 18 at 5:12 p.m.
"We spent the weekend talking with the shuttle program," Dovale said. "Just recently, we have met with them and we are relinquishing the June 17 launch date to them. They are tracking well to their re-work for the (umbilical plate) seal. We will maintain June 18 as the earliest capability for LRO/LCROSS and the Atlas 5.
"We will monitor shuttle's progress. If shuttle were to begin their count and scrub for any reason prior to midnight (Tuesday), LRO/LCROSS and Atlas can maintain June 18 as the earliest date. Right now, the Range is working the question if shuttle launches on the 17th, can they still support us on the 18th? That's just about 24 to 28 hours of turnaround where they really require 48."
An answer is expected later today but in the meantime, "because we can allow shuttle to go all the way up to midnight on the 16th, we will maintain our readiness for the 18th," Dovale said.
The LRO spacecraft is scheduled to map the moon's surface in unprecedented detail from an orbit around the lunar poles just 31 miles above the cratered terrain. A companion mission, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, is designed to look for evidence of water ice and other materials by crashing the Atlas 5's Centaur upper stage into a crater near the moon's south pole.
A small "shepherding satellite" will monitor the Centaur's demise, flying through the cloud of debris thrown up by the crash, before following it to a similar fate.
The primary goals of Endeavour's 16-day five-spacewalk mission are to attach an experiment platform to a Japanese research module, to replace aging solar array batteries, to mount critical spare parts on the station and to replace station flight engineer Koichi Wakata with NASA astronaut Timothy Kopra.
Endeavour's launch window opened June 13 and closes June 20. A launch on June 21 is possible, but one of the crew's spacewalks likely would have to be deleted to ensure an undocking before temperature constraints were violated.
The LRO/LCROSS launch window also closes on June 20. The decision to give the shuttle a launch opportunity Wednesday still leaves at least two opportunities to launch LRO/LCROSS before its window closes.