Next space shuttle launch targeted for mid-May

 作者:李匪     |      日期:2017-05-26 06:01:19
By New Scientist Space and Reuters (Image: NASA/Jack Pfaller) Repairing damage to a space shuttle fuel tank from a freak hailstorm probably will push the next launch of the shuttle Atlantis from April to mid-May, NASA planning documents show. Managers were meeting on Wednesday to assess the repair plan and set a new target launch date for Atlantis, which is scheduled to fly to the International Space Station to deliver and install a third set of solar arrays. Planning documents show a targeted launch date of around 11 May. NASA intended to launch the shuttle on 15 March but the ship had to be returned to a processing hangar to repair insulation on Atlantis’s fuel tank. The foam was damaged during a severe hailstorm that passed over the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on 26 February (see Damage from hailstorm delays shuttle launch). The shuttle was being prepared for launch at a seaside launch pad when the storm hit. NASA has until 21 May to launch the shuttle, or it must wait until 8 June for more launch attempts. Between those dates, the Sun’s position is unsuitable for the shuttle to be docked at the station. Shuttle manager Wayne Hale has said the program can withstand the delay without a long-term impact on the space station construction schedule. NASA must finish building the $100 billion outpost, a partnership of 16 countries, by 2010, when the shuttles are to be retired. The agency needs at least 13 flights to finish the job. Two re-supply missions to the station and a servicing call to the Hubble Space Telescope also are planned. NASA has been particularly sensitive to shuttle tank safety since the 2003 Columbia accident, which was triggered by a piece of tank-foam insulation falling off and damaging the shuttle’s wing during lift-off. The impact broke open a heat panel on the wing, which allowed superheated atmospheric gases to get inside the structure as Columbia soared through the skies for landing 16 days later. The shuttle broke apart over Texas, killing all seven crew members. Repairing Atlantis’s tank will require technicians to re-spray foam at the top of the tank, which was heavily damaged in the hailstorm. To assure the repair would be safe to fly, detailed engineering assessments and tests will be needed prior to launch,