NASA managers decided Friday to officially aim for a Feb. 7 launch of the shuttle Atlantis and delay another flight to mid-March as engineers work to replace an electrical connector on the orbiter?s fuel tank.
The launch target will allow time to install and test the new connector and avoid schedule conflicts with other spacecraft that, like Atlantis, are bound for the International Space Station (ISS), NASA officials said in a statement.
Atlantis and its STS-122 astronaut crew are now scheduled to launch at 2:47 p.m. EST (1947 GMT) on Feb. 7, two months late, on a planned 11-day mission to deliver the European Space Agency?s (ESA) Columbus laboratory to the ISS.
The spaceflight has been delayed since early December by fuel sensor glitches, which engineers traced back to a suspect electrical connector at the bottom of Atlantis? external tank. Engineers are expected to complete the installation of a replacement connector on Saturday, NASA officials said.
NASA also pushed back the planned Feb. 14 launch of the shuttle Endeavour to mid-March. That mission, STS-123, will deliver a robotic arm addition and the first segment of Japan?s Kibo laboratory to the ISS.
The new shuttle launch dates, as well as a decision by Russia?s Federal Space Agency to move the launch of an ISS-bound unmanned Progress cargo ship up two days to Feb. 5, were tailored to suit the work schedules of the space station?s current Expedition 16 crew, NASA officials said.
In addition to a spacewalk repair of starboard solar wing motor slated for later this month, the station?s three-person crew is also gearing up for the arrival of the European cargo ship Jules Verne. Built for the ESA, Jules Verne is the first of a series of Automated Transfer Vehicles that designed to haul fresh supplies to astronauts aboard the ISS.
Atlantis? STS-122 mission will mark the first of five scheduled shuttle flights slated to launch this year. The shuttle Discovery is scheduled for an April launch to deliver second element of the station?s Kibo lab.
A planned August mission, also aboard Atlantis, is aimed at overhauling the Hubble Space Telescope while a September flight of Endeavour will haul fresh supplies to the ISS.
- SPACE.com Video Interplayer: NASA's STS-122: Columbus Sets Sail for ISS
- Top 10 Spaceflight Stories of 2007
- VIDEO: ISS Commander Peggy Whitson Takes Charge