By Rob Coppinger in Orlando

Electrified Anvil clouds on the west coast of Florida could delay the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery, expected at 15:48 tomorrow, for its 12-day International Space Station (ISS) logistics mission STS-121.

The concern is that the Shuttle, as it ascends, could trigger lightening from the Anvil clouds, which hold electrical charge generated by thunderstorms for some time after a storm has dissipated. The orbiter has a 20nm (30km) limit surrounding it for storms due to the danger of lightning.

Storms have been occurring in the region and winds at 35,000-40,000ft (10,600-12,00m) are expected to blow the Anvil clouds inland late on 30 June. The Shuttle weather office will provide red and green calls on the weather situation from 09:53 on 1 July, which is the same time the transfer of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen begins to the shuttle’s external tank. Prior to that there will be a NASA mission management team meeting at 08:45.

“There is a 60% chance of [Kennedy Space Center] KSC weather stopping the launch,” says Shuttle Weather Office’s Kathy Winters.

Launch attempts will take place on 1, 2, and possibly 3 July and then KSC will stand down for 96h due to personnel and propellant supply reasons, before attempting to launch again.

With a 1 July launch Discovery is expected to land back at KSC on 13 July at 14:45.

As well as the transfer of supplies from the Multi Purpose Logistic Module, carried by the shuttle, the astronauts will, on the mission’s first extra vehicular activity (EVA), test a thermal protection system tile repair system; and for its second, and third contingent EVA, install a replacement pump and a replacement communication umbilical for the ISS’s robot arm transporter system.

The transporter uses two umbelicals, but one failed in December and its failure has to be investigated.

Meanwhile US birdstrike detector specialists DeTect have announced that NASA will use its Merlin avian radar ystem for bird detection and tracking for the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery.

Click here to see an animated report of bird flocks across the USA, produced for DeTect, shows activity around the Florida state 72h ago.

Source: Flight International