Cape Canaveral, Fla. –

On board was Commander Christopher Ferguson in seat 1, his third space flight; Pilot Douglas Hurley in place 2, his second space flight; Mission Specialist Sandra Magnus in seat 3, her third space flight; Mission Specialist and crew engineer Rex Walheim in position 4, his third space flight.

The mission will last 12 days with a projected return on July 20th, 2011 at 7:06 am Eastern Time.  The shuttle will orbit 122 nautical miles above the earth, carrying only four crew members instead of the regular six because no standby shuttle and crew could launch to help a rescue in space. Alternatively, if a problem develops, the team will take refuge in the International Space Station and return to earth one at a time over the course of a year.  As a side benefit, having fewer crew members allows the shuttle to maximize the cargo capacity.

For techies:

  • Mass:
    • Total liftoff weight: 4,521,143 pounds (2,050,756 kg)
    • Orbiter liftoff weight: 266,090 pounds (120,700 kg)
    • Orbiter landing weight: 226,375 pounds (102,682 kg)
    • Payload weight: 28,418 pounds (12,890 kg)
  • Perigee: TBD
  • Apogee: TBD
  • Inclination: 51.6°
  • Period: 91 minutes

The mission marks:

  • 166th (and currently the final planned) NASA manned space flight
  • 135th shuttle mission since STS-1
  • 33rd flight of Atlantis
  • 3rd shuttle flight in 2011
  • A 37th shuttle mission to the ISS
  • 110th post-Challenger mission
  • 22nd post-Columbia mission

Atlantis will ferry extra supplies to the International Space Station. Since the ISS program has a strong likelihood of being extended to 2020, it is probable that the station will require more extra supplies after the shuttle retires. A shuttle extension would allow for the crew to maintain the completed space station, but an ISS extension was never intended to be a guaranteed shuttle program extension, and the shuttle program is officially to end after STS-135. Therefore, the more delivery of excess supplies for the station, the better.


Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) Raffaello will make up the majority of the payload. The MPLM will be filled with 16 resupply racks, which is the maximum that it can handle.

The Lightweight Multi-Purpose Carrier (LMC) will also be carried on this mission. The External Thermal Cooling System (ETCS) Pump Module (PM) on ESP-2, which failed and was replaced in orbit in August 2010, is planned to have a ride home on the LMC so that a failure analysis can be performed on the ground. The Robotic Refuelling Mission will ride up to the station on the underside of the LMC to be placed onto the ELC-4.

Atlantis will carry the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) developed by the Satellite Servicing Capabilities project at the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). It plans to demonstrate the technology and tools to refuel satellites in orbit by robotic means. After the proof of concept, the long-term goal of NASA is to transfer the technology to the commercial sector.

RRM will include four tools, each of these incorporating electronics and two cameras and lights. Additionally, it will have pumps and controllers and electrical systems including electrical valves and various sensors.

The RRM payload was transported to the Kennedy Space Center in early March 2011 where the GSFC team will perform the final preparations for space flight. Once up in the International Space Station, RRM will be installed into the ELC-4. The Dextre robot will be used during the refueling demonstration.

This mission is the third flight of the TriDAR sensor package designated DTO-701A (Detailed Test Objective), a 3D dual-sensing laser camera, intended for potential use as an autonomous rendezvous and docking g sensor. It was developed by Neptec Design Group and funded by NASA and the Canadian Space Agency. Previously TriDAR was flown twice on STS-128 and STS-131, aboard Space Shuttle Discovery. TriDAR provides guidance information that can be used for rendezvous and docking operations in orbit, planetary landings and vehicle inspection/navigation of unmanned rovers. TriDAR does not rely on any reference markers, such as reflectors, positioned on the target spacecraft. To achieve this, it relies on a laser-based 3D sensor and a thermal imager. The geometric information contained in successive 3D images is matched against the known shape of the target object to calculate its position and orientation in real-time.

The sensor is installed on the exterior airlock truss next to a Trajectory Control System (TCS. On STS-135 TriDAR will also be used to demonstrate technology for autonomous rendezvous and docking in orbit. The crew will have a laptop set up to display the information that is acquired by the system. However, it will not be used to provide information to the Shuttle’s TCS.

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