Tim Furniss/LONDON

NASA is expected to announce further delays to the International Space Station (ISS) assembly schedule. The STS101 Atlantis mission to the ISS, which was due in December, is likely to be delayed until next year, and the major Shuttle assembly mission 3A is expected to be pushed further into the new year.

The STS101 logistics mission is being delayed by continuing inspections of the Shuttle wiring system after damage was found during last month's STS93/Columbia mission (Flight International, 25-31 August).

Meanwhile, Mission 3A, which was originally scheduled for last year, is likely to move from next February to May, according to the NASA Watch web page, which is run by a former NASA employee and monitors and comments on the space agency's activities.

The mission will carry the first truss structure, communications systems, a power module and gyros for the ISS. The schedule is slipping because of delays in the testing and integration of equipment for the mission. NASA says the delay is unlikely to be too long, but could be weeks, or even a month.

The 3A delay is likely to push back the first habitation crew's launch from March to June at the earliest. Because of the delay, there are fears within NASA that Russia may launch a national Soyuz crew on a "logistics" flight to the Russian modules, so becoming the first to operate on the ISS. Two Russian crews are training for contingency missions to the ISS.

Shuttle missions 4A and 5A have already been delayed from March/ April to June and July, and later 5A.1 and 6A missions, which will carry large logistics modules, have been pushed back, to November next year. Flight 4A will carry the first photovoltaic module and another truss, while 5A will fly the US Laboratory module. Flight 7A, carrying an airlock, stays on schedule for next August

A test of the automatic docking system on the ISS has been completed successfully in preparation for the launch and flight to the ISS of the Russian Zvezda service module in November.

The launch of the Zvezda on a Proton will go ahead as planned only if at least one successful Proton launch has been conducted before November, because of concerns following the recent Proton M failure.

Source: Flight International