Sunday, June 14, 2009

Single-Shot launch opportunity for delayed Endeavour bumps Wednesday's launch of LRO-LCROSS

As late as one week ago NASA said the launch of Endeavour (STS-127) would have to wait if a delay Saturday of it's scheduled launch caused the Space Shuttle mission to bump up against Wednesday afternoon's scheduled launch of LRO & LCROSS.

Forty-eight hours are needed for Patrick Air Force Base personnel to set-up tracking for two very different launch configurations, down the Atlantic Missile Range. The Space Shuttle, of course, is manned and it's mission to the International Space Station requires an insertion into low earth orbit at a very precise, northerly inclination.

A single Space Shuttle mission is also more expensive than any single unmanned mission to the Moon, with delays potentially costing far more.

Faced with just such a delay, by Sunday evening NASA managers had changed their tune, saying they were no longer quite so sure about dropping the Shuttle mission for the twin lunar probes.

At their briefing NASA managers said a decision would come on Monday.

Before a half-hour had passed, however, both CNN and Reuters were reporting a decision had been made.

The joint launch Wednesday afternoon of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and Lunar CRater Remote Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) on board their Atlas V booster is being bumped, Reuters said. NASA will to try for a "one-time" 5:40 am (EDT) launch window for Endeavor, early Wednesday morning June 17.

LRO and LCROSS could be launched as late as Saturday. If not, both lunar missions originally bumped to December, to March, finally to next Wednesday lose favorable launch windows to the plain of the Moon's orbit for at least one lunar orbit, or July 13.

A liquid hydrogen leak delayed the scheduled launch of Endeavour on Saturday. The Shuttle crew has remained in quarantine as ground operations at Kennedy Space Center "work the problem."

NASA, of course, is under pressure (a fatal situation in the past) with concerns arising over stacking Shuttle missions for the remainder of the program, still scheduled to come to a close at at the end of the next federal fiscal year, October 31, 2010.

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