NASA has pushed to November the launch of one of its three remaining shuttle missions to modify an experiment module to be attached to the International Space Station (ISS).
NASA announces change in shuttle schedule
Cape Canaveral, Fla. (UPI) Apr 27, 2010 – NASA says it is planning some changes in the launch dates for the last two scheduled space shuttle flights, pushing the date for the final flight to November. Space agency managers said the decision to extend International Space Station operations until at least 2020 will necessitate some changes to the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer that will be installed at the space station. Scientists said they want to make sure the magnet in the particle detector experiment is capable of working much longer than planned to accommodate the extension of space station operations.
The experiment is designed to study the formation of the universe by searching for evidence of dark matter and antimatter by measuring cosmic rays. Because of the magnet change and the time required to facilitate it, NASA said space shuttle Endeavour’s STS-134 mission — which will carry the experiment to the station and was targeted to launch July 29 — now is expected to launch no earlier than mid-November. An exact target launch date has not yet been set.
“Space shuttle Discovery’s STS-133 mission currently remains targeted for its Sept. 16 launch date, but managers will continue to assess its readiness for flight and make changes as appropriate,” the space agency said in a statement. “The next shuttle flight, Atlantis’ STS-132 mission targeted for launch May 14, remains on track with no changes.” The Atlantis launch will mark the final scheduled mission for that space shuttle.
Shuttle Endeavour, which had been scheduled to lift off July 29, will now launch “no earlier than mid-November 2010” so that scientists can upgrade a magnet in the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer program to a longer-lasting device, the US space agency said late Monday on its website.
“This will take advantage of NASA’s plan to extend station operations until at least 2020,” the agency said.
The Endeavour rescheduling does not affect the next launch, of shuttle Atlantis, due to blast off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on May 14.
“The payload for the (Atlantis) flight, an integrated cargo carrier and a Russian-built mini research module, was installed in the shuttle’s cargo bay Sunday,” NASA said.
The final shuttle mission had been scheduled for September 16, with Discovery flying a last resupply machine to the orbital outpost. Discovery was still slated for its September 16 launch, “but managers will continue to assess its readiness for flight and make changes as appropriate,” NASA said.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is mothballing its shuttle program this year, and once the three shuttles are retired the United States will rely on Russia to take astronauts to the station aboard three-seater Soyuz spacecraft until a new fleet of commercial space taxis is operational.
A successor to the Discovery is scheduled to take off no earlier than 2015.
By the time the final three missions are complete, the space shuttles — characterized by NASA as the most advanced machines ever built — will have flown 134 missions into orbit.
US President Barack Obama announced in February he wanted to see the life of the ISS extended for at least another five years beyond its 2015 end date.
The ISS, a joint project involving 16 countries, has cost around 100 billion dollars, mostly funded by the United States.
The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer — a project led by Nobel laureate Samuel Ting of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — will be installed on the ISS to help study and shed light on how the universe was formed, and search for evidence of dark matter and anti-matter by measuring cosmic rays.