Tuesday, December 15, 2009

NASA Launches Key Endeavour Integration Test

NASA called engineers and technicians to their stations at Kennedy Space Center today as the agency launched a series of critical integration tests on shuttle Endeavour.

Endeavour and six astronauts are slated to blast off Feb. 7 on a mission to deliver the U.S. Tranquility module and the Italian-built Cupola to the International Space Station. Veteran shuttle pilot George Zamka will lead a crew that includes former KSC engineer Kathryn "Kay" Hire as well as pilot Terry Virts and mission specialists Stephen Robinson, Nicholas Patrick and Robert Behnken.

Now in High Bay No. 1 of the KSC Vehicle Assembly Building, Endeavour was mated to an external tank with attached solid rocket boosters over the past weekend. The orbiter rolled over from its processing hangar to the assembly building last Friday. A faulty pyrotechnic bolt designed to separate the orbiter from its external tank was removed and replaced, but otherwise, no significant problems cropped up during the mating operation.

NASA and its prime shuttle fleet operator United Space Alliance are in the midst of performing tests that will verify mechanical and electrical connections between Endeavour and its external tank, solid rocket boosters and mobile launcher platform. The tests are standard operating procedure prior to rolling a shuttle out to its launch pad.

Mounted atop a giant crawler transport, Endeavour and its mobile launcher platform are scheduled to roll out to launch pad 39A on Jan. 6. Here's is a quick look at some of the other important milestone dates in the STS-130 processing flow:

++Jan. 15: The Tranquility Module and the Cupola will be transported to pad 39A from the Space Station Processing Facility in the KSC Industrial Area. The Cupola is an observation deck that is shaped somewhat like a bay window and has six windows. A robotic work station will be housed in the Cupola.

++Jan. 19: Zamka and his crew will arrive at KSC for their Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, a two-day practice countdown that is the astronauts' last major training exercise at KSC prior to launch. NASA and contractor managers will kick off a two-day, program-level Flight Readiness Review.

++Jan. 20: Two-day practice countdown picks up and the STS-130 crew will take part in emergency training at launch pad 39A. The astronauts will check out the launch tower escape system and drive M-113 armored personnel carriers they would use to evacuate complex 39A in an emergency.

++Jan. 21: The astronauts will don pressurized launch-and-entry suits and board Endeavour during what amounts to a launch-day dress rehearsal.

++Jan. 27: NASA and contractor managers will meet at KSC for an executive-level Flight Readiness Review. A firm launch date will be selected at the conclusion of the meeting.

NASA's official target date for the launch now is Feb. 4. But managers have requested Feb. 7 on the Eastern Range. A Change Request that will officially move the date to Feb. 7 will be presented at a Program Requirements Control Board (PRCB) on Thursday.

ABOUT THE IMAGES: Click to enlarge and save the NASA images of the orbiter Endeavour being hoisted by crane operators in the Kennedy Space Center Vehicle Assembly Building and then mated to an external tank with attached solid rocket boosters. You can also click a second time to get an even larger, more detailed view. Photo credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller.

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