NASA has ruled out an early February launch for the Space Shuttle Discovery in order to allow more time to repair the orbiter’s external fuel tank, agency officials announced Jan. 6.

The decision to further delay Discovery’s launch until late February at the earliest came after a meeting of top shuttle program officials to evaluate the progress being made on the fuel tank repairs. From their analysis, the officials opted to push the next launch attempt further back from the previously scheduled Feb. 3 liftoff.

“There is no official target date right now,” said NASA spokesman Kyle Herring of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, adding the next opportunity to launch Discovery on the STS-133 mission to the international space station does not occur until late February.

NASA officials said that with the continuing repairs under way on the external tank, and the potential for additional work still to be defined, it was clear that Discovery would not be ready for flight in time to make a launch window that opens Feb. 3 and closes Feb. 10,

Shuttle officials want to be sure Discovery’s 15-story external tank is structurally sound for launch and won’t pose a debris risk to the shuttle during liftoff, Herring said.

Discovery’s final mission — a space station supply run — has been delayed since early November due to external fuel tank cracks and other issues.

New launch targets for Discovery’s STS-133 mission, and subsequently for Endeavour’s STS-134 mission, will be discussed Jan. 13 at the weekly meeting for top shuttle program managers.