Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ariane Launch Today Could Bump Shuttle

A second attempt will be made today to launch an Ariane 5 rocket and a European cargo carrier from a South American spaceport, and if the craft blasts off, the planned Feb. 24 launch of shuttle Discovery might be moved to Feb. 25.

However, NASA snd its partners could decide later this week to keep the Discovery launch targeted for Feb. 24, barring any unforeseen problems. A decision would be made at the flight readiness review Friday for the Discovery launch.

The Ariane 5 and Europe's second Automated Transfer Vehicle, dubbed Johannes Kepler for the famous German astronomer and mathematician, are scheduled to set sail from Launch Complex 3 at Guiana Space Center in French Guiana at 4:50 p.m. EST. You can watch live NASA TV coverage of the launch here in The Flame Trench. Click the NASA TV box on the right to launch our NASA TV viewer and live coverage beginning at 4:15 p.m.

The launch is precisely timed to put the Kepler craft on course for a 10 a.m. Feb. 24 docking at the International Space Station. So there is no launch window, per se. Discovery's launch would move to Feb. 25 to accommodate that docking and provide a required 72 hours between the arrival of visiting vehicles at the outpost.

A one-day slip in the shuttle launch would push back to Monday from Sunday the arrival of Discovery's crew at Kennedy Space Center. The start of a three-day countdown to the shuttle launch would move to Tuesday.

About the size of a double-decker bus, the ATV-2 spacecraft weighs more than 22 tons and will be the heaviest payload ever hauled into orbit by an Ariane 5. The launch will be the 56th for Ariane 5 rockets and the 200th since Christmas Eve 1979 for the Ariane family of rockets.

A first attempt was scrubbed four minutes and one second before a planned liftoff Tuesday when flight controllers detected data that erroneously indicated there was a problem with the level or flow of fuel through the first stage propulsion system.

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