Wednesday, February 25, 2009

No Flight Date

No Flight Date: "NASA managers want more time to evaluate the danger from a tiny space shuttle engine valve that failed during the most recent flight, and won't set a launch date for the upcoming flight of the shuttle Discovery until next week.

After a 13-hour flight readiness review at Kennedy Space Center, associate administrator William Gerstenmaier gave the shuttle program until next Wednesday to lay out a plan for finishing the testing and analysis necessary to clear the flight. At issue is whether another valve failure would sent a tiny part hurtling into the plumbing that keeps the shuttle's main hydrogen tank pressurized with enough force to cause a potentially dangerous leak.

Although that possibility apparently has existed since the first shuttle flight, new inspection and analysis tools indicate that the valve should be redesigned for safety. The upcoming work will determine if it is safe to keep flying with the existing design with inspection using the new tools.

The launch of the STS-119 mission with the fourth and final U.S.-built solar array wing for the International Space Station had most recently been scheduled Feb. 27, but that date will slip. The shuttle program needs to get the mission underway before about March 13 to avoid a conflict with an upcoming Russian Soyuz mission to the ISS. After that date, the next time the shuttle could launch without a Soyuz conflict would be about April 7, Gerstenmaier said at a Kennedy Space Center press conference tonight.

John Shannon, the shuttle program manager, said most engineers participating in the flight readiness review believed it would be safe to fly on Feb. 27. But enough questions remained about the results of tests simulating the effects of a loose piece of the suspect valve in the orbiter end of the plumbing to warrant more work.

'I believe we'll be able to put a plan together and make sure we answer those questions before the new launch date,' Shannon said. 'We were not that far away.'


(Via On Space.)

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