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Atlantis to blast off on 7 Feb

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NASA has announced that space shuttle Atlantis will carry Europe's Columbus laboratory to the ISS on 7 February.

The new launch date is conditional on the rescheduling of a planned Russian cargo ship flight to the station on the same day, since both vessels can't dock at the same time. It's not, however, dependent on solving the ongoing fuel sensor problems which caused launches to be cancelled on 6 and 9 December.

The offending sensors - which monitor liquid hydrogen levels in the vessel's fuel tank and prevent it running dry, potentially triggering a catastrophic explosion - failed routine prelaunch checks and were subsequently sent off for testing.

NASA spokesman Steve Roy said that X-rays and pressure tests on the devices had not identified the problem, thought to lie in a three-part connector plate in the wall of the shuttle's tank. Further tests are planned for this week, but NASA will, if necessary, replace the entire connector with one featuring soldered rather than plug-in connections. ®

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