Sunday, May 15, 2011

Shuttle Endeavour poised for her final launch Monday

Endeavour will soar on her final spaceflight Monday. (NASA)

The penultimate launch of the space shuttle program remains on schedule for Monday morning before and estimated crowd of over a half-million spectators gathered along the Space Coast.

Weather remains 70% favorable as forecasters watch for a chance of cross wind conditions at the shuttle landing facility's runway and a slight chance for low clouds. The runway would be used in an abort scenario during the first few minutes of launch if one or more main engines shutdown.

Shuttle Endeavour will lift-off on her twenty-fifth and final space flight of her career to begin a 16 day mission to drop of spare equipment and a particle physics detector which will study and measure cosmic rays to look for and understand dark matter in the universe around us.

Launch remains on track for Monday at 8:56:28 a.m. EDT, from launch complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Endeavour's all veteran crew of commander Mark Kelly, pilot Gregory H. Johnson and mission specialists Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and Roberto Vittori of the European Space Agency, will spend twelve days docked to the space station as they deliver a few tones of fresh food, supplies, experiments and water for the station's six person crew.

Endeavour's mission to the station will be much different than that of past shuttle to station visits during the last decade.

The station's crew will awake about four hours after Endeavour's crew during the docked phase; and a never before performed undocking by a departing Soyuz with three station crew members will allow for the taking of several historic images of the orbiting complex-space shuttle together 230 miles high above earth.

After a two day chase, the crew will guide Endeavour in slowly and dock to the space station at 6:15 a.m. on Wednesday. It will be the 36th station docking by an orbiter, and Endeavour's 11th since 2000.

A few hours later, the hatches will open and the collective group of twelve will work together as a crew to begin unloading supplies and prepare for the grapple of the major payload in the shuttle's bay.

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer 2 is the prime payload of this STS-134 mission. It is a particle physics experiment in which scientists will use it's 300,000 data channels to flow information obtained to some 600 computers.

The 15,300 pound AMS will be placed aboard the orbiting complex on the Starboard 3 zenith and ran until the end of the station's planned life in 2020.

Endeavour's crew will awake three hours before the station crew awakes to begin their first full day aboard the station.

Endeavour's crew will power up the shuttle's 50-foot robotic arm and grapple the AMS-2 at 1:56 a.m. on Thursday. Five minutes later, the station's expedition crew will awake and twenty minutes after that, the shuttle's arm will slowly begin lifting the AMS out of the payload bay.

AMS will be slowly moved over to the space station's arm where it will then grapple the huge experiment package at 3 a.m.

Once connected, the shuttle's arm will then release it as the station's arm guides AMS over to the Starboard 3 location which is just inside the right second set of solar arrays on the station's main truss.

The crews will have AMS at the S3 zenith ninety minutes after the handoff, and will spend nearly one hour attaching AMS hard down.

Astronauts will also perform four spacewalks during the mission, the first to begin at 3:16 a.m. on Friday.

One week into Endeavour's mission, three of the station's six crew members will depart aboard their Russian Soyuz TMA20 craft after spending five full months in space.

It will be the first time during a shuttle's visit to the outpost that station crew members have left to go home.

Soyuz commander Dmitry Kondratyev, American Catherine "Cady" Coleman and Italian Paolo Nespoli are set to undock at 7:06 p.m. on May 23, to begin their three-hour trip back to earth.

The undocking and fly around of the complex will come as Endeavour's crew sleeps, including station astronaut Ron Garan who will have sleep shifted in support of the shuttle's crew.

Once undocked, the Soyuz crew will take still images and video of the space station with the shuttle docked, a first during the space station program.

It is these images which will be seen in many promotional materials published by NASA during the next decade.

Endeavour is set to undock for the final time from station in the closing minutes of May 29.

As the shuttle departs the complex, ground controllers and the flight crew will be watching a special experiment called STORRM.

"The goal of STORRM is to validate a new relative navigation sensor based on advanced laser and detector technology that will make docking and undocking to the International Space Station and other spacecraft easier and safer," NASA's Johnson Space Center states.

Using a sensor and high-def docking camera tied to a laptop computer on the shuttle's flight deck, commander Kelly will back Endeavour out and then reapproach the space station to test STORRM.

"Once we undock and separate from space station, we will re-rendezvous on a different type of profile to gather more data and be somewhat more similar to what Orion would do during a space station approach," Kelly explained recently.

This new docking approach guidance will operate from three miles away to up to just five feet from the station's docking target.

One hour following undocking, Endeavour will perform a separation burn and minutes later, begin STORRM operations.

A second separation burn will move the spacecraft further out before Kelly and pilot Johnson begin to reapproach the football field size complex again -- a first in the shuttle program.

Two and one-half hours following undocking, Endeavour will begin a series of burns to close in using the new sensor system.

Endeavour will sail into the sunset of her storied career as her final time in space concludes with a deorbit burn set for 1:29 a.m. on flight day 17 -- the conclusion of the 217th orbit of the mission.

Landing is currently set for 2:32 a.m. on June 1 back at the Kennedy Space Center's runway 15/33.

Of note, as Endeavour glides into the spaceport for landing, her sister ship Atlantis is currently scheduled to roll out that same night, and will likely be on the crawler way and just a mile from pad 39-A.

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