|Thursday, November 04 2010 @ 05:10 PM MST
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL - Under gloomy, grey skies with rain pouring down on Launch Complex 39-A this morning, space shuttle mission managers postponed Discovery's already delayed mission another 24 hours when it became obvious the weather wasn't going to permit a launch. The new launch time for Discovery's final mission is 3:04:00 p.m. EDT on Friday, weather permitting. There is a 40% chance that high winds following the passage of a cold front will delay the launch again.
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"Our team was prepared and ready to execute tanking this morning," said Pete Nickolenko, the Assistant Shuttle Launch Dorector on NASA TV shortly after launch was postponed. "Our tanking weather would have been acceptable. However, the launch forecast continues to be poor, with solid rain showers forecast throughout the course of the day."
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The MMT met at 5:30 this morning for the standard briefing conducted before giving the go-ahead to load the shuttle's external fuel tank with a half-million gallons of supercold liquid hydrogen fuel and liquid oxygen. During the meeting, the team discusses any lingering technical issues as well as the weather.
While there weren't any technical problems that could have delayed fueling, the weather forecast for the day was positively dismal.
The forecast called for broken clouds at 3000 and 6000 feet with a solid deck at 15,000 feet. Winds were predicted to be around 13 knots with gusts up to 20 and rain within 20 nautical miles of the launch pad.
So it was a fairly obvious call to delay the launch 24 hours. The forecast Friday is generally favorable, with mostly clear skies. However, after the cold front passes through, winds will pick up and there's a chance that they'll exceed NASA's limits at the Shuttle Landing Facility where Discovery would have to return and land in the case of a Return-To-Launch-Site (RTLS) Abort.
"The weather forecasters did indicate this frontal system should pass through later tonight and of course, on the backside of a cold front we'll get drier weather," said Nickolenko. "Of course, it'll be windier, too, so we'll be watching the winds tomorrow to see what the launch winds and the potential headwind issues may be, if any, for us. And then also we'll be watching the upper level winds."
Winds are predicted to be 17 knots with gusts to 26 and blowing straight down the runway from the north end at 330 degrees. Gusts that high would be a violation of the launch and landing commit criteria.
The weather should be acceptable for Discovery's fueling, scheduled to commence at 5:39 a.m. EDT Friday. The Mission Management Team will meet again at 5 a.m. to review the status of the shuttle and weather before giving the go to load propellants into the external tank.
(the Spacearium / Zero-G News)