Testing Important for Flawless Mission
Ninety tons of International Space Station hardware currently is being processed in the high bay of the Space Station Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center. It will eventually join the 198 tons of Station elements that now compose the orbiting space research platform.
Among the huge elements on stands spanning the high bay floor is Node 2, the final element for finishing the phase of the Station called "core complete." That element, expected to be launched sometime in 2005, recently arrived at the SSPF and now is being tested. After testing and trouble shooting is complete, it will be subject to multi-element testing with the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) to determine if the elements work together.U.S. Node 2 and the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) are being tested in the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF)
Previous multi-element integration tests (MEIT's) on Station hardware have proven invaluable for solving problems inexpensively on the ground. "You don't want to wait until you're on orbit to find a problem. It's much more difficult to make repairs," said Tim
Honeycutt, NASA technical integration engineer. "These tests are extremely important to the success of the program."
On Earth in the SSPF, hundreds of NASA and Boeing engineers and technicians are available to tweak the systems until they work
perfectly. On orbit, the astronauts would have to make repairs, perhaps during a space walk.
During the Node 2 testing, activity in the high bay at Kennedy gives a deceptive picture of the testing process. While some engineers and technicians are on the floor supporting the test, many more are in control rooms behind the scene monitoring the tests and making critical judgment calls.
At right: The Italian-built U.S. Node 2 is being attached to the end of the U.S. Lab
Boeing Communication and Tracking engineer Marty Hall has worked on both types of testing. For the past 15 years he has tested video systems used for on-orbit science experiments requiring a video link. He began working with video systems for Spacelab and later was assigned to the Station program as it ramped up.
"We make sure that scientists are able to view their experiments on orbit," Hall said. "Considering that researchers often wait many years to finally get a chance to launch their experiments, it's critical to get things right."
After core complete, NASA will launch the International Partners' laboratories, Japan's JEM and the European Space Agency's Columbus. JEM is being processed in the high bay and Columbus is being tested and completed in Europe.
Space Station processing at Kennedy won't end with the final module. Science experiments and supplies will continue to be delivered and returned via the multi-purpose logistics modules, nicknamed Leonardo, Raffaello and Donatello.
Testing of payloads follows a similar pattern.
At left: Testing is ongoing on the U.S. Node 2, second of three Space Station connecting modules
"We'll continue to support Station after construction is complete, but we'll be focusing our energies on processing science experiments,
which is what Station is about, " said Steve Cain, NASA's advance planning manager for ESA at KSC. "At that point the international
community will have access to a phenomenal research platform, allowing for long-term space research able to pass the toughest standards of science. That has never been possible before."
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NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center