Washington, D.C. – NASA has tentatively set a new launch date for the next space shuttle mission. Discovery is now targeted for a March 12 launch, which is exactly one month behind the original schedule. NASA said it will need the extra time to analyze the shuttle's hydrogen flow control valves, one of which was damaged during the November 2008 flight of Endeavour.
NASA is not taking any chances about the risks Discovery’s three gaseous hydrogen flow control valves may pose. Technicians have started removing the valves at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The organization will take over 4000 images of each valve to analyze the devices in detail, reviewing them for possible evidence of cracks.
Engineers will also try to get a better understanding of what may happen when a valve breaks, or if pieces break off and potentially damage other parts of the shuttle -- such as the pressurization lines between the shuttle and the external fuel tank. As of now, the investigation is still ongoing, but NASA said that it may add extra protection to the pressurization lines to add extra protection "in the unlikely event debris is released."
NASA found that one of the valves, which channel gaseous hydrogen between the main engines and the external tank, was damaged during the November 2008 flight of Endeavour. Discovery on mission STS-119 was originally scheduled for a February 12 launch, but due to the concern of the damage, the date was moved first to February 20, then to February 27 and now to March 12. "After a thorough review of shuttle Discovery's readiness for flight on Feb. 20, NASA managers decided more understanding of the valve work was required before launching Discovery," the organization said.
The Space Shuttle Program will hold a meeting March 4 to review new data and assess ongoing work. Managers then will determine whether to move forward with a flight readiness review March 6, NASA said. If Discovery's current tentative launch date holds, there will be no effect on the next two shuttle launches - STS-125 to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and STS-127 to the International Space Station (ISS), NASA said.
The STS-119 crew is scheduled to fly the S6 truss segment to the ISS and install the final set of power-generating solar arrays: The payload will include two solar array wings, each of which has two 115-foot-long arrays, for a total wing span of 240 feet, including the equipment that connects the two halves and allows them to twist as they track the sun.
Altogether, the four sets of arrays can generate 84 to 120 kilowatts of electricity, which is enough to provide power for more than 40 average homes. The new devices will be able to provide to double the amount of power available for scientific research, NASA said.