Friday, March 19, 2010

Payload joins Discovery at KSC's launch pad 39A

More than 30,000 pounds of cargo arrived at Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39A early this morning, a key milestone before Discovery's planned April 5 launch to the International Space Station.

Enclosed in a 65-foot long canister, the payload for Discovery's mission began a nearly three-hour roll to the pad just after midnight, arriving at 2:51 a.m. today.

The canister was hoisted into a chamber in the pad's open Rotating Service Structure (above). The payload will be transferred into a "changeout room" and the canister removed early Saturday, when the RSS will also be closed around the shuttle.

Discovery's planned 13-day mission will resupply the station with food, equipment and science experiments packed into a cylindrical "moving van," the Italian-built Multi-Purpose Logistics Module nicknamed Leonardo. The shuttle will also fly up a replacement ammonia tank critical to the station's cooling system, and return a spent tank to the ground.

"Payload to the pad is a very big milestone for us," said Joe Delai, the mission's NASA payload manager. "Very significant."

The cargo won't be installed until engineers complete a series of weekend tests needed to clear Discovery for flight.

The tests will verify if a pair of regulators are working inside the orbiter's right, rear maneuvering engine pod, after a problem with a helium valve was discovered during fueling of the system last weekend.

If the regulators are in good shape, managers may decide that the isolation valve issue poses no threat to the flight, which is targeted for launch at 6:21 a.m. April 5 and landing at 8:35 a.m. April 18.

Shuttle program managers plan to meet Tuesday to review the test data. An official launch date and time is expected to be set next Friday at a final Flight Readiness Review.

IMAGE: Photo by Mike Brown of Florida Today.

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