Preparations for the next launch attempt of Atlantis to send six American astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut to the International Space Station (ISS) are moving along with no apparent issues standing in the way of a scheduled liftoff next Thursday, May 18.
American and Russian flight controllers, meanwhile, continue to monitor systems on the international outpost as it awaits the arrival of the crew to deliver supplies and perform some home improvement work in preparation for the arrival of the Russian “Zvezda” Service Module this summer.
The launch of Atlantis is currently planned for 6:38 a.m. EDT next Thursday during a five minute launch opportunity. Atlantis would arrive for a docking with the ISS at about 12:32 a.m. EDT on May 21 (11:32 p.m. CDT on May 20), the fourth day of the flight. Atlantis’ launch on May 18 is contingent on the maiden commercial launch of a Lockheed Martin Atlas 3 expendable rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, currently planned for late Monday afternoon. Because it is the first launch of a new vehicle, Atlas has reserved launch attempts at the Cape through May 17, if required. Should the Atlas launch be delayed to May 17, the launch of Atlantis would be moved one day later, to May 19. Atlantis currently has launch opportunities through May 21.
A May 18 launch of Atlantis would result in the Shuttle undocking from the ISS on May 26 at about 5:32 p.m. EDT with landing at the Kennedy Space Center planned for the pre-dawn hours of Memorial Day, May 29, at 2:18 a.m. EDT. Atlantis’ crew members are now back in quarantine and will fly down to their launch site late Sunday night for final pre-launch preparations. Their arrival will be broadcast on NASA Television. A new countdown will begin on Monday at 9:30 a.m. EDT with launch and mission coverage beginning at 1 a.m. EDT on May 18.
After another review today of the launch schedule, American and Russian Station officials made a final determination that no firing of the thrusters on the ISS’ “Zarya” Module would be necessary to adjust its altitude to accommodate Atlantis’ rendezvous. Although controllers continue to keep close tabs on the status of Zarya’s electrical systems, no significant technical issues are being pursued in advance of Atlantis’ arrival. Four of Zarya’s batteries and associated electronics will be replaced during the docked phase of Atlantis’ flight along with other hardware in both Zarya and the Unity module.
Russian managers are reporting that Zvezda’s preparations continue on schedule to support a launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan during a period between July 8-14. Zvezda is undergoing final vacuum chamber testing at Baikonur. Its Proton booster rocket is scheduled to be delivered to Baikonur from Moscow late this month, with a General Designer’s review planned in Moscow around June 20 to set a firm launch date for “Zvezda”. That will follow the launch of another Proton rocket with modified engines from Baikonur in early June to certify the refurbished rocket for Zvezda’s launch.
The current orbit of the ISS is 221 by 207 statute miles (355 x 333 kilometers). The average decay of the Station’s orbit is about 1½ statute miles per week. While docked, Atlantis’ reaction control system thrusters will be used to raise the orbit of the Station by around 20 miles. As of today, the Station has circled the Earth more than 8,440 times since November 1998.
SPECIAL NOTE: The next Mission Control Center ISS Status Report regarding on-orbit activities will be issued on the first Thursday following Atlantis’ STS-101 mission (currently June 1). Until that time, ISS information will be incorporated into the daily Shuttle Mission Control status reports. For further information, please contact the NASA Public Affairs Office at the Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, 281-483-5111.
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