Columbus launch no earlier than 2 January
The launch of the European Columbus laboratory on board Space Shuttle Atlantis' STS-122 mission to the International Space Station now is targeted to launch no earlier than 2 January 2008 from NASA's Kennedy Space Center. The liftoff date depends on the resolution of a problem in a fuel sensor system. For the latest updates, please consult the NASA website.
Early Sunday, one of the four engine cut-off, or ECO, sensors inside the liquid hydrogen section of Atlantis' external fuel tank gave a false reading while the tank was being filled. NASA's current Launch Commit Criteria require that all four sensors function properly.
The sensor system is one of several that protect the Shuttle's main engines by triggering their shut down if fuel runs unexpectedly low. Atlantis' scheduled launch on Thursday 6 December was delayed after two liquid hydrogen ECO sensors gave false readings.
The main objective of Atlantis' 11-day mission is to install and activate the European Space Agency’s Columbus laboratory, which will provide scientists around the world the ability to conduct a variety of life, physical and materials science experiments.
In reaction to the postponement Alan Thirkettle, ESA’s ISS Programme Manager, was understanding of the situation. “We’re disappointed. We wanted to fly on Thursday and we wanted to fly today. But more importantly we want to fly safe,” he said. “The Space Shuttle is a complicated system which can have failures and can have stand downs – it is normal business.”
ESA officials will hold internal meetings this afternoon to discuss actions necessary to secure the Columbus laboratory and the Columbus payloads.