This week at Cape Canaveral saw the ground crews working to launch the last flight of Discovery get past a mechanical issue. NewSpace firm SpaceX pushed the launch date of the first COTS flight back from Nov. 8 to Nov. 18 and NASA awarded the contract to launch the MAVEN spacecraft to United Launch Alliance.
Shuttle Workers Swap out Discovery’s Seals
Oct. 24 – After a leak was located on space shuttle Discovery, workers drained over 1,500 gallons worth of highly-toxic propellant from the vehicle’s orbital engines. They then replaced a set of seals and refueled the engines. The orbiter remains on-track for its 4:40 p.m. EDT launch time on Nov.1.
The engines or Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) are the twin pods on either side of the shuttle’s tail fin. Within one of these pods is a flange that began to leak. Workers managed to stop the leak, but in an over-abundance of caution managers decided to replace the seals around the flange as well.
The leak was relatively small, but given that it was the toxic monomethyl hydrazine propellant that was leaking – all precautions were taken. Therefore the seals that were removed will be examined to try and determine the cause of the leak. Tests also will be conducted on the new seals to ensure that they are secure. A flight readiness review will be held at 8 a.m. on Monday to determine if the launch can proceed on schedule.
Launch Date of Second Falcon-9 Slips
Oct. 23 – The launch of the second of SpaceX’s Falcon-9 rockets and the first Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS-1) mission has slipped ten days to Nov. 18. The launch of the Falcon-9 and Dragon spacecraft will take place from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40).
This mission is designed to test out the Dragon spacecraft’s ability to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX has been working toward a Nov. 8 launch date and no reason was given as to why this date slipped a week and a half.
This delay means that the first COTS-1 mission will take place after the final launch of the space shuttle Discovery and the launch of a Delta-IV rocket currently scheduled to launch on Nov. 1 and Nov. 15 respectively. Under the COTS-1 mission profile, the Dragon spacecraft will conduct three orbits of the Earth before it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.
NASA Awards MAVEN Contract
Both NASA and SpaceX are planning at least one more demonstration flight that will lead up to a Dragon spacecraft docked at the ISS. Under the COTS contract SpaceX will conduct 12 resupply missions to the orbiting laboratory. This contract is worth an estimated $1.6 billion.
Oct. 21 – NASA awarded United Launch Alliance the contract to launch the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft (MAVEN). MAVEN is planned to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 in November of 2013. The probe will launch atop a ULA Atlas V.The contract is worth an estimated $187 million.
MAVEN is designed to study the Martian climate, providing a better picture of how Mars’ atmosphere, is impacted by the solar wind, how it lost most of its atmosphere and other elements involved with this process. The launch will be overseen by the Kennedy Space Center-based Launch Services Program.
This Week in Kennedy Space Center History
October 20, 1995: NASA launched the space shuttle Columbia on mission STS-73 from Kennedy Space Center. STS-73’s mission was to conduct microgravity research.