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Processing "Firsts" Set Stage for STS-127 Launch
07.29.09
 
Space shuttle Endeavour and its seven-member crew launched on the STS-127 mission on its sixth attempt, July 15, at 6:03 p.m., after five launch attempts were unsuccessful because of tanking leaks or weather issues. The long-awaited launch was preceded by a host of "firsts" by Kennedy Space Center's launch processing team.

Endeavour's Flow Director Dana Hutcherson said, before the launch of the STS-125 mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, the processing team worked around the clock to get both launch pads ready for Atlantis and Endeavour.

"Essentially we were working two vehicle flows in parallel," Hutcherson said. Space shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis

Image above: Image above: After space shuttle Endeavour's rollout to Kennedy's Launch pad 39B, two shuttles are poised on two launch pads. Space shuttle Atlantis (left) already was on Launch Pad 39A awaiting liftoff on the STS-125 mission to service NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Photo credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis Photo credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis
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Workers remove the 7-inch quick disconnect on the Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate

Image above: Image above: On Launch Pad 39A, workers remove the 7-inch quick disconnect on the Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate, or GUCP, on space shuttle Endeavour's external fuel tank. A hydrogen leak at that location during tanking for the STS-127 mission caused managers to scrub launch attempts on June 13 and 17. Photo credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller
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Storm clouds over Launch Pad 39A

Image above: The darkened sky over Launch Pad 39A reveals the decision to postpone the July 13 launch attempt of Endeavour on the STS-127 mission. Lightning and thunderstorms developed within the 20-nautical-mile circle around the launch pad. Photo courtesy of Scott Andrews
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Workers processed and prepared Endeavour in the orbiter processing facility, or OPF, in 109 days and rolled the space shuttle out to Launch Pad 39B on April 17, for the STS-400 mission.

NASA Test Director Steve Payne said for dual pad processing, the resources were split. The ground processing team worked in the OPF, Vehicle Assembly Building and both launch pads with little or no break in activity.

Hutcherson said it was critical to have Endeavour on the pad and ready for launch in seven days in the event of a rescue mission. Once STS-125 launched, all resources were dedicated to getting STS-400 ready to launch. The team went as far as beginning launch countdown.

After the Hubble servicing mission was completed, Endeavour's STS-400 mission became STS-127 on May 21, and the space shuttle rolled around to Launch Pad 39A on May 31.

Payne said a lot of work was accomplished in a two-week timeframe for Endeavour's first launch attempt.

"We had to get smart and efficient with the use of the resources we had," Payne said.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's final Kibo segments were installed and tested in Endeavour's payload bay at the pad. Batteries, equipment and spare parts for the space station were added in the middeck.

Hutcherson said the OPF flow also was challenging, with a few "firsts" accomplished to get the midbody configured and ready for the payload. The payload required installation of more parallel active latches than normal. A dual latching design was implemented that uses one switch throw to control multiple latches and was a first for any payload upload. Hutcherson said an unprecedented amount of wiring work on the latches was completed to prepare the midbody for the payload.

The space shuttle's external tank was filled six times, tied with STS-1 in April 1981, and STS-35 in December 1990. It also had been quite a while since space shuttles sat on both launch pads at the same time.

Endeavour was ready to launch as scheduled on June 13, when the external tank's Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate, or GUCP, developed a leak during tanking. After a 96-hour scrub turnaround for a seal replacement, the vehicle was once again ready to launch. However, the leak proved far more difficult to resolve than had been expected, according to Payne.

The team went into high gear and studied the problem carefully, eventually detecting a misalignment in the GUCP that prevented the parts from fitting together correctly. After nearly two weeks of hard work, the alignment problem was resolved.

Payne said a tanking test on July 1 verified that the repair had been successful and the team was once again ready to proceed with launch.

"It was a herculean effort," Payne said. "The entire processing team went the extra mile."

Endeavour was ready to launch on July 11, when severe thunderstorms rolled over Kennedy and Launch Pad 39A was struck by lightning. Launch was delayed before tanking while the team verified there had been no damage to the vehicle's systems.

A second attempt was made July 12, but it was scrubbed due to thunderstorms in the area. A third attempt was made on July 13, with a second scrub for weather.

"After a 48-hour delay, the team tried once again on July 15, and was rewarded with a spectacular launch," Payne said.

 
 
Linda Herridge
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center