NASA aimsto launch four space shuttle missions by the end of the year, some aboarddifferent orbiters than originally planned, in order to continue assembly ofthe International Space Station (ISS), mission managers reported late Monday.
The U.S. space agency released new launch targets for three ISS-bound missions in 2007following the plannedJune 8 liftoff of the Atlantis shuttle’s STS-117 station assembly flight. Theshuttle’s 11-day mission to deliver new solar arrays to the space station hasbeen delayed beyond its initial March 15 target following haildamage to the orbiter’s foam-covered external tank.
“OnceAtlantis flies STS-117, it gets the ball rolling for everything else,” NASAspokesperson Allard Beutel, of the space agency’s Washington D.C. headquarters,told SPACE.com. “This is a chance to look a year ahead and get back ontrack.”
Under thenew plan, set down during a Monday meeting of top NASA shuttle and ISS programmanagers, Atlantis’ STS-117 mission will be followed by the Endeavour orbiter’sSTS-118 mission no earlier than Aug. 9.
The nextshuttle to fly will then be STS-120 aboard Discovery -- rather than the initiallyplanned Atlantis orbiter -- to launch the Harmony connectornode to the space station on Oct. 20. NASA then hopes to close out 2007with a Dec. 6 launch of Atlantis on the STS-122 mission to deliver the EuropeanSpace Agency’s Columbus laboratory.
TheEuropean-built module was initially slated to launch spaceward aboard NASA’sDiscovery orbiter, though the space agency reassigned some missions todifferent spacecraft to ease shuttle processing and turnaround times, NASA officialssaid.
“Basically,it gave us a little more flexibility,” Beutel said of the shuttle swap forupcoming spaceflights. “In a sense, it bought us some time back in theprocessing time required.”
NASA alsoset launch targets for the first two shuttle flights of 2008.
The spaceshuttle Endeavour is slated to launch on Feb. 14, 2008 on the STS-123 missionto deliver the Canadian-builtDextre addition to the station’s robotic arm and the first of three stationsegments that make up the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Kibo laboratory.A second element of the Kibo module, as well as its own robotic arm, are due tolaunch spaceward on April 24 on NASA’s STS-124 mission aboard the Discoveryorbiter, though the spaceflight was previously reserved for the Atlantisorbiter.
NASAshuttle and ISS managers have said that every orbiter flight in the outpost’sassembly sequence through its projected 2010 completion date depends on thesuccess of the preceding orbiter flight. It also depends on internationalcontributions such as Russian Progress cargo ship launches, Soyuz missions toswap station crews and the upcoming launch of Europe’s first AutomatedTransfer Vehicle (ATV) supply ship.
“We’re insuch a position now where everything must line up, one after another, liketumblers in a lock to get to the end of that sequence,” Beutel said.
- STS-117 Power Play: Atlantis Shuttle Crew to Deliver ISS Solar Wings
- IMAGES: The Spacewalks of NASA’s STS-116 Mission
- Complete Shuttle Mission Coverage
- All About the Space Shuttle
Get the Space.com Newsletter
Breaking space news, the latest updates on rocket launches, skywatching events and more!
Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.