hst sts61W445.jpg

credit: NASA / caption: this image is from STS-61

With the NASA Authorisation act 2008 setting the US space agency the challenge of sending the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) instrument to the International Space Station before September 2010, the scheduled retirement for the orbiter fleet, Hyperbola has obtained some details about the work to squeeze the remaining 11 flights in   

With STS-126 scheduled for launch this Friday (14 November) and the AMS mission, aka STS-134, added by Congress NASA is seeking ways to squeeze the other nine flights into 21 months

It is no mean feat and the recent Congressional Budget Office report on Shuttle and NASA’s Constellation programme reported that the space agency’s own estimates only give it at most a 69% chance of success

Despite that there are two key aspects to shuttle operations that are being focused on to achieve the new compact launch schedule

The increase of crew onboard the ISS to six next May means that the arrival of cargo on STS-128, scheduled for 30 July 2009, is considered critical. Proposed changes to the manifest will mean that that mission, which was to involve the orbiter Atlantis, is now likely to be carried out by Discovery

And Discovery is the second key factor, because to undertake STS-128 and the need to complete that resupply mission on time then pushes Discovery’s STS-119 to an earlier date

The new date is 20 January, forward almost a month from its current manifested 15 February launch target. STS-119 is to deliver the fourth starboard truss segment and fourth and final set of solar arrays and batteries. To meet the new January date the agency is even considering a mission content reduction but what that means Hyperbola has no concrete information

While the wildcard in all of this is the Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission, STS-125. Now delayed into next year the question remains can it occur in May, with October now being touted as a new date according to internet rumours?