Columbus to launch today
The European Columbus laboratory is scheduled to launch on board Space Shuttle Atlantis later today. The STS-122 mission to the International Space Station is due to lift-off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 20:45 CET (19:45 UT) - follow the launch live on NASA TV and in ESA's Columbus Blog.
Today’s launch comes two months after the first two launch attempts were scrubbed early December following a failure in the Shuttle’s engine cut-off (ECO) sensor system. The problem was located to a feed-through connector in the wall of the External Tank. NASA engineers have implemented a fix of the connector to resolve the problem.
The launch team at KSC are watching the local weather closely. With a cold front moving into the area bringing low cloud cover and the possibility of lightning storms, forecasts on Thursday predicted a 70 percent chance of unfavourable weather at launch time.
NASA officials are due to meet at 10:45 CET (09:45 UT) to give the go-ahead for fuelling. External tank loading is scheduled to start about 40 minutes later – once this process is underway it will become apparent whether the ECO sensor fix has truly been successful.
ESA’s Columbus laboratory is the most important European mission to the ISS to date and the cornerstone of Europe’s contribution to this international endeavour. Once Columbus is attached to the Space Station, ESA will become an essential partner in the operation and utilisation of the only permanent outpost in space.
As the first European laboratory devoted to long-term research in space, Columbus will further expand the science capabilities of the ISS. In its interior, the Columbus laboratory will provide accommodation for experiments in the field of multidisciplinary research into biology, physiology, material science, fluid physics, technology, life science and education. In addition, its external payload facility hosts experiments and applications in the field of space science, Earth observation and technology.
ESA astronauts Hans Schlegel and Léopold Eyharts are part of the STS-122 crew responsible for bringing Columbus into orbit. Schlegel will play a key role in two of the three spacewalks scheduled for the mission.
Eyharts will remain on board the ISS as a member of the permanent Expedition 16 crew – he will oversee the installation, activation and in-orbit commissioning of Columbus and its experiment facilities.