Follow this link to skip to                                      the main content


Text Size

SSPF in High Gear for Return to Flight
As NASA prepares for Return to Flight, technicians at Kennedy Space Center's Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) are really hopping.

Most International Space Station (ISS) payloads are processed in the SSPF so there's always plenty to do. Right now, there are four major Space Station elements that are being assembled and tested for upcoming Shuttle missions, including return-to-flight mission STS-114.

Element testing in SSPF "The emphasis is on partnership in everything we do here at Kennedy Space Center and how we work as a team to get the job done," said Bill Dowdell, director of Technical Operations at the SSPF.

At left, the JEM and Node 2 modules are in the process of being assembled and tested for their future flight to the International Space Station.

Work is proceeding at a steady pace in the Space Station Processing Facility. Two major components being processed by the SSPF technicians are the 12A and 13A element power modules that include solar arrays. These additional arrays will be installed and deployed on the ISS to deliver the extra power required to conduct greater scientific research.

Processing of the elements is very close to completion. The batteries that were installed prior to the solar arrays as part of the initial design phase need to be tested because of the grounding of the Space Shuttle.

Consider the batteries we have at home. We know that if they're stored in the refrigerator, their shelf life is increased. The element batteries were also kept in a refrigerated unit. But once they were installed on the module, their operational life "clock" began ticking and their charging capability was diminished. Testing will have to be done to see how much battery capacity has been lost. Depending on the results, a decision could be made to disassemble the modules and replace the batteries.

Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) technicians are working on another component, the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM), a research facility similar to the U.S. lab. They plan to complete their stand-alone testing and final assembly work by the beginning of March 2004. JEM will remain in the SSPF until called to duty on a future launch.

U.S. Node 2, the element of the Station that will signal "Core Complete" when installed on orbit, is in its final assembly and servicing stage. This crucial testing stage will show if there are any problems that might need to be addressed.

Testing of the common birthing mechanism on the Node 2 is scheduled to pick up in January 2004. These are connection tests to verify that the module joins the Space Station in such a way that it will grapple, dock and seal properly.

Node 2 will also undergo an element leak test. After transporting the element to the nearby Operations and Checkout Building, it will be put into a vacuum chamber. The air will be pumped out of the chamber, to simulate a vacuum much like in space, and the module will be checked for leaks. All human habitation modules are tested in this way.

The daily flurry of activity that goes on in the SSPF not only includes assembly and test of the truss cargo segments Node 2 but preparation of the Multi-Purpose Logistics Modules (MPLMs), as well. The first two MPLMs, Leonardo and Raffaello, have already flown and are back in the SSPF to prepare for future missions. These modules are used for transporting science experiments and cargo to and from the ISS.

Technicians are vigorously working to prepare Donatello, third in the series of MPLMs, for risk mitigation testing that will prepare it to fly as the first powered MPLM. In this case, "powered" means the module will supply electricity and cooling to the science experiments that it is transporting.

SSPF technicians in bunny suits Donatello is being processed by NASA with engineering support from the Italian Space Agency and The Boeing Co. MPLM testing will begin in late winter or early spring.

SSPF technicians wear "bunny suits" to keep the equipment free of contaminants.

Even after construction of the ISS is completed, Space Station processing at Kennedy will continue. MPLMs Leonardo, Raffaello and Donatello will need to go through the processing cycle again to prepare for their next missions. There is more than enough work to keep those SSPF technicians hopping in their bunny suits for years to come.

For further information visit:
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center