NASA Eyes Feb. 7 Launch Date for Shuttle Atlantis

NASA Delays Shuttle Launch to January After Fuel Sensor Glitch
In the late afternoon shadows, space shuttle Atlantis is still poised on the pad after its launch on mission STS-122 was postponed on Dec. 6, 2007.
(Image: © NASA/George Shelton.)

NASAmanagers are targeting a Feb. 7 launch date for the space shuttle Atlantisas engineers prepare to replace an electrical connector in the spacecraft?sexternal fuel tank.

A decision onthe proposed launch target could come as soon as Friday, pending coordination betweenshuttle and International Space Station (ISS) managers, as well as the agency?sinternational partners, said Candrea Thomas, a spokesperson at NASA?s KennedySpace Center spaceport in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Meanwhile,shuttle workers are expected to complete efforts to replacea suspect electrical connector on Atlantis? 15-story external tank earlyFriday, Thomas told SPACE.com.

Atlantis? missionto deliver a newEuropean laboratory to the ISS has been delayed since early December, whenfuel tank sensor glitches thwartedtwo launch attempts. NASA tracked the malfunction to apparent open circuitsin an electrical connector used to route sensor wiring from inside the fueltank to equipment inside Atlantis.

Shuttlemanagers set a tentative launch target of no earlier than Jan. 24 last week,but added that a slip to early February was likely as engineers continue workon the fuel tank connector.

NASAengineers believe that the super-cold temperatures of Atlantis? liquid hydrogenand liquid oxygen propellant lead to intermittent open circuits between wiringand metal pins inside the electrical connector. They soldered wires directly totheir corresponding pins on the new connector to avoid similar glitches in thefuture, NASA officials said.

Theso-called feed-through connector is located low on Atlantis? external tank andis part of a backup system that monitors a shuttle?s fuel levels during launch.The engine cutoff system is designed to shut down an orbiter?s three mainengines before its fuel tank runs dry.

Commanded byveteran shuttle flyer Stephen Frick, the seven astronauts of Atlantis? STS-122crew will install the European Space Agency?s Columbus lab at the ISS during theirupcoming spaceflight. The 11-day mission will mark the first of five scheduledshuttle flights of 2008 to continue ISS construction and overhaul the HubbleSpace Telescope, NASA has said.

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