Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Orbital Science Corporation Antares rocket raised into position

This NASA handout photo shows the Orbital Science Corporation Antares rocket seen as it is raised into position at launch Pad-0A, on December 16, 2013, at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Virginia

With the space station cooling system hobbled and a commercial cargo launch waiting in the wings, NASA Tuesday prepared all options but said no decision had yet been made on whether spacewalk repairs would be needed.

Instead, Orbital Sciences rolled its Antares rocket out to the launch pad at Wallops Island, Virginia in preparation for a Thursday launch of its Cygnus supply ship at 9:19 pm (0219 GMT).

Meanwhile, NASA television showed images of astronauts preparing their white spacesuits in case they are called upon to step outside the space station and repair the broken equipment cooling system.

A US space agency spokesman told reporters a final decision could come later Tuesday or early Wednesday.

On Wednesday of last week, NASA learned that a broken valve had interfered with the cooling loops that regulate the equipment temperature aboard the space station.

The six-man crew was never in danger due to the problem, NASA said.

If the agency decides the manuevers it has made from the ground to orchestrate a temporary fix—by manipulating valves and shutting down some equipment—are stable, the Orbital launch could go ahead.

Orbital Sciences' privately owned cargo ship would then start its journey on its first regular commercial mission to supply the orbiting outpost Thursday, berthing at the space station on Sunday at 4:52 am (0952 GMT).

The company did a demonstration launch and berthing at the ISS in September, showing it was capable of the mission and paving the way for more supply trips.

When NASA lost its capacity to reach space with the retirement of the 30-year shuttle program in 2011, Orbital and SpaceX stepped in to fill the void with their privately made, unmanned supply spacecraft.

Both companies have lucrative contracts with the US space agency to ferry supplies to the ISS.

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