back to article NASA preps Atlantis for Hubble mission

Space shuttle Endeavour was yesterday rolled into the Kennedy Space Center's giant Vehicle Assembly Building, where technicians will clamp on its external tank and twin solid rocket boosters pending transfer to launch pad 39B some time next week. Endeavour heads into the Vehicle Assembly Building. Photo: NASA Endeavour (see …


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  1. Jon H

    Endeavour's rescuers?

    And who / what will go up and rescue Endeavour's crew when their heat shield has failed too?

  2. Robin Kinge

    and if

    Endeavour gets up there, and it has knackered tiles, then what?


  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Jon H and Robin Kinge

    Between the two shuttels they should have enough good parts to construct one fully functional one. They will already have a toolkit with them for the Hubble repairs.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Explanation please

    Could someone with an understanding of orbital mechanics and fuel limitations explain why the shuttle can't reach the ISS from it's orbit? Is it just a case of the shuttle not having enough fuel etc.? Thanks muchly.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Space Camp

    I think we have to assume that Endeavour *can* reach the ISS, and that the ISS would have enough space for the two shuttle crews if there was a problem with both shuttles. Is there any news of the plan to retrieve Hubble, or is it toast?

  6. Peter Hawkins

    Just out of curiosity...

    Does anyone know why the shuttle can't go from Hubble to the ISS. I thought the ISS was lower so it would involve slowing the shuttle to a lower orbit which I would suppose is easier than raising to a higher one. I know there is a reason but what is it?

  7. Christoph

    @ Explanation please

    The ISS orbits at a very high inclination (angle of orbit to the equator) so that the Russian spacecraft can get to it easily. So it's a very different angle to the Hubble orbit. It takes a *lot* of fuel to change orbit inclination - far, far more than the shuttle can possibly take into orbit.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fuel & Chance

    Hubble has a different orbit to the ISS and the shuttle would be unable to make it to the ISS.

    The chance of one shuttle failing has been estimated at 1 in 100. The chance of two failing is 1 in 10000.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    transfer in orbit

    It's got to be to do with the plane of inclination of the orbits, since otherwise they seem to be at roughly the same altitude and velocity. I know the ISS has a pretty high inclination (51 degrees according to Wiki), but can't find anything about the inclination of Hubble's orbit. If it's close to zero (i.e round the equator) the Shuttl has to make a big change in vector ("delta vee") to match orbits, and I know it's been said that it can't do that. Delta vee is based on burning fuel and chucking the combustion products out the engine at high speed, so yes, it's a fuel capacity issue.

  10. John B

    'Within days'

    If I were NASA, I would have the backup shuttle ready to go at the same time as the first orbiter. If an event takes place that puts the first shuttle out of reach of the ISS, the backup must be able to be launched within hours, not days.

  11. NickS
    Paris Hilton

    Credit Crunch Angle

    It was reported today that NASA had gone into administration stranding several astronutters in space . . . it is uncertain that a return flight can be organised. In a press release NASA blamed high fuel prices and an uncertain marketplace . . .

    Paris - She understands the crunch n' grind

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Christoph and the ACs

    Okey dokey, now I see. Thanks muchly.

  13. Chris

    @Fuel & Chance

    Does anyone know an open Ladbrooks?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The thing they're worrying about isn't rescuing the first shuttle's crew from "danger". They're worrying about giving them a lift *back* if the first shuttle proves to be too beat up to survive re-entry. As such, the rescue mission only has to reach the "stranded" astronauts, who can return to the point of *nearly* making re-entry, before the food and air and water run out on the busted orbiter.

    I bet they're packing extra consumables, since the actual science payload isn't even half of a normal LEO max.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    @John B

    Thankfully you are not NASA because you are an IDIOT!... Firstly the event that puts the shuttle out of reach of the ISS is called launch it is perfectly normal.

    The shuttle will always be out of reach of the ISS on this mission hence the need for backup. Now if backup were to be needed it will be known after the tile inspection which will be carried out immediatly after launch, which is day 1, recovery would be needed at the end of the mission which is day 11, giving NASA well over a week to play golf, before launching Endeavour.

    now stop stroking your Mac and learn something useful.

    (to the others STS125 will be at inclination of 28.5 Degrees)

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I bet they're packing extra consumables....

    and a shuttle to shuttle connecting tube....

  17. TimM

    Is this a first?

    As in preparing for a possible rescue mission before the mission has launched?

  18. druck Silver badge

    Auto land?

    A good question is if shuttle 2 rescues shuttle 1's crew, could shuttle 1 make an unmanned return to earth, and if it doesn't suffer significant re-entry damage, to auto land?

  19. Anonymous Coward

    perhaps obvious but why dont they ?

    "I bet they're packing extra consumables, since the actual science payload isn't even half of a normal LEO max.


    as i understand it, by far the largest cost is getting stuff up there, so why dont they fully load every single flight to the max and leave it up there for later use?

    surely having a slow moving remote platform that can take its time getting to were you might need it later, and so massively reduce the a big change in vector ("delta vee") or whatever to get to were it needed later, hell after 10 missions they would have a massive ammount of payload collected and ready for use.

    and then presumably all thats needed, is place it in a position handy to collect it up and tow it to the station or future moonbaseor wereever, after all theres a lot of other space junk just sitting out there totally unpowered or movable.

    so why not make a goods and equipment dropoff/collection point somewere in that void inbetween and use some of the stored fuel to power and position this platform somewere useful later....

    saving a few quid now on each launch fuel costs to have to spend loadsAMoney later to get it all up there in one go seems like a silly way to run your long term space plans.

    think of all the money they could have saved if they had done it when gas was $20 or even less a barrel LOL ;) but you get the point perhaps.

  20. WonkoTheSane

    @perhaps obvious...

    ISTR a plan back when the Shuttle first flew, which involved fitting a small rocket to the external tank, which once empty, would be boosted into a stable orbit.

    Once a few had been collected in this manner, use the robot arm to string them together like sausages, weld on an airlock or two, and you have an instant space station.

    Obviously, this was dropped as it contained too few porkbarrels for the budget committee.

    Mine's the one with copies of Warren Ellis' "Ministry of Space" in the pocket. (How Great Britain could have done it)

  21. Kevin Reader
    Thumb Up

    Changing between shuttles...

    There are some diagrams on the NASA website that suggest the rescue transfer goes as follows:

    1. Shuttles approach upside down and at 90 degrees to each other, but in similar planes separated by some "vertical feet". This reduces the chances of them crashing.

    2. With both shuttle bay's open the rescue shuttle then uses its ARM to grab something solid inside the other shuttle's load bay.

    3. The rescue shuttle is then rotated and pulled nearer - although both probably move (Newton) - so that they are closer to nose to tail. I assume the idea is to have a larger closer alignment between the cargo bays.

    4. The astronauts then climb up the arm or jump/jet between the two shuttles.

    5. Once everyone is inside STS-400 they let go and move away. I suspect they may use the arm again to get 90 degrees out of line for safety first.

    6. The rescued astronauts have seats in the cargo bay which would be a heck of a ride I should think.

  22. Robert Heffernan


    "could shuttle 1 make an unmanned return to earth, and if it doesn't suffer significant re-entry damage, to auto land?"

    The shuttle was never designed to fly itself, which is why the shuttle's first orbital test flight (STS-1) had a crew.

    After the Colombia accident, when NASA developed the rescue mission plans, they made a cable to link the onboard general-purpose computers with the avionics systems on the flight deck to allow the shuttle to attempt to fly itself back. The cable was launched and stored on the ISS during the return to flight mission, and was brought back so it could go up with atlantis on this flight.

    Funny thing is, the russian Buran shuttle was capable of flying itself and the only orbital flight it made was uncrewed since at the time, there was no life support and most of the avionics instrumentation wasn't yet installed.

  23. Graham Marsden


    > the inspection via the shuttle robotic arm will be "much more intensive".

    Couldn't they just use Hubble to give it a *really* close up inspection...?

  24. John B

    @ Anonymous Coward

    My point was the fact that if they have an issue during launch, or during the initial orbit insertion they would not have 11 days to send a rescue mission. You seem to imply that only heat tile damage etc (which would affect re-entry) is the only critical point in a mission...what happens if they are hit by a random object and are venting air just after insertion?

    Your comment about 28.5 degrees also requires clarification...what angle are you referring to? To the ecliptic? To the Equator? To the polar axis??

  25. Anonymous Coward

    @ John B...

    Any hole in the orbiter that would cause atmosphere loss on a scale which the crew could not repair themselves would result in that crew dying before a rescue mission could be launched anyways. Unless Endeavor was launched in tandem or immediately after Atlantis, it wouldn't reach them in time. Not to mention the time to calculate and execute safe orbital maneuvers and docking... and that pesky little launch window thing, to ensure both orbiters are on the same flight path...

    Though it would probably make for a neat new Tom Hanks film...

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    And our point was that the contingency for which they are planning, in having a ready Shuttle, is not those other possibilities. It is entirely, solely and only about having a second go at providing an orbiter that will not disintegrate on re-entry if Endeavour is found to have catastrophic heat shield damage. That is all.

    I wouldn't be surprised if the flight crew don't volunteer to ride the damaged bird down if it can't be robotically landed, and there's any chance at all of the airframe not exploding in red hot shards.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    Clarification For JohnB

    'You seem to imply that only heat tile damage etc (which would affect re-entry) is the only critical point in a mission'

    Yes that is correct, as per Nasa and the article you are commenting on:

    'Before Atlantis's crew gets to grips with Hubble, though, it'll do the now customary close examination of the shuttle's heat shield the day after launch. In this case, and without the ISS crew to "give the shuttle a once over and photograph its heat shield", the inspection via the shuttle robotic arm will be "much more intensive".

    In the event that "irreparable damage" is found, and since Atlantis can't reach the ISS from Hubble's orbit, Endeavour can be made ready to rescue the stranded astronauts "within days".'

    'Your comment about 28.5 degrees also requires clarification...what angle are you referring to?'

    see earlier post by Cristoph 'inclination (angle of orbit to the equator) '

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