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30-Oct-02 | Mishap at the pad

The next east coast Delta launch has been postponed to a date TBD. On Friday, 25 October, a mishap at SLC-17B resulted in some damage to flight hardware. The GPS IIR-8 satellite and the attached Delta third stage have been returned to their processing facility for assessment. No one was injured in the incident, and Air Force and Boeing officials have begun an investigation to assess the extent of the damage and to determine the cause of the error.

During typical payload mounting operations, the spacecraft and its third stage are assembled together in a clean room environment and spin balanced. They are then enclosed in a tall cylindrical container in order to maintain the clean space during transport to the pad. The entire package is hoisted to Level 9 of the Mobile Service Tower, where the container is then bolted to the Delta second stage. Once Level 9 is properly sealed, the container is disassembled and raised clear of the payload.

Apparently, on Friday the pad’s lifting crane pulled the container upward after it was bolted to the Delta vehicle but before detachment of its bottom panels, resulting in unspecified “damage to flight hardware,” likely part of the third stage or its lower attach fittings. The mishap is expected to delay the launch of GPS IIR-8 by at least a month.

This delay could impact other flights from Cape Canaveral. The next east coast Delta launch is scheduled to be SIRTF in early January. SIRTF will fly aboard a new configuration of Delta II — 7920H (heavy) — which uses the larger GEM-46 booster motors of Delta III. At Canaveral, only pad 17B has been reconfigured to support these more powerful motors. GPS IIR-8, which currently occupies pad B, will have to get turned around quickly and launch so as not to impact SIRTF’s primary launch window, which extends through 9 March. (Typically, Delta II stacking operations at the pad commence some six to seven weeks before launch.) Another option that has been mentioned would be to destack the vehicle for GPS and move it to pad A, thus clearing pad B for SIRTF. A decision on that is likely on hold pending results of the damage investigation. (Spaceflight Now, 29-Oct-02)

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