Tim Furniss/LONDON

The Space Shuttle Discovery landed at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on 6 June after the nine-day, 19h mission STS96 to prepare the International Space Station (ISS) for the first resident crew next March.

This date depends on the successful launch in November of Russia's Zvezda service module. An STS101/Endeavour resupply mission will follow, possibly in December. Further assembly missions cannot be scheduled until the Zvezda is in orbit.

Meanwhile, NASA has brought forward the launch date for the STS93/Columbia from 22 July to 20 July, despite doubts that the flight, to deploy the Chandra X-ray observatory, will go ahead.

After declaring it was satisfied with the inertial upper stage due to carry the Chandra, NASA has backtracked under the instruction of its administrator, Daniel Goldin, who wants to await the outcome of a US Air Force investigation into the failure of a similar stage on an April Titan IVB launch.

A meeting on 18 June between the USAF and NASA will decide the Columbia's fate - whether it will be launched mid-year or suffer a year's delay. Because of other Shuttle schedule obligations, the mission could be put off until late next year if Columbia is not launched by the end of August,.

Shuttle missions are set for 16 September (Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, STS99/Endeavour), 14 October (Hubble Servicing Mission 3, STS103/Discovery) and 2 December (ISS3, STS101/Atlantis). The Columbia is scheduled for an overhaul in October and will not be ready to fly until July next year.

Source: Flight International