Satellite Shoved Into Right Orbit; Astronauts Have Bonus Space Day
SPACE CENTER, Houston (AP) _ After frustrating efforts to release one satellite and reel out another, Atlantis’ astronauts today conducted atmospheric tests in a relatively easy bonus day in space.
The mission was initially scheduled to end today, but NASA lengthened it after repeated delays with the satellites.
During a news conference this morning, payload commander Jeffrey Hoffman said the astronauts were disappointed for scientists who had worked for years on a tethered satellite experiment that was scrapped Wednesday.
″We hope that on the basis of what we’ve learned from this mission, that it will be possible to in the future accomplish some of these goals, because we still believe in the potentials of the tethered satellite system,″ he said.
A European scientific satellite, which had been stuck in an orbit too close to Earth, was boosted Thursday to its working orbit. Controllers had interrupted the Eureca satellite’s journey Sunday because of a computer error in a sun sensor.
Engineers at the European Space Agency’s control center in Darmstadt, Germany, commanded the thrusters on the $213 million satellite to fire, and Eureca moved to an elliptical orbit 312 miles high at its highest point.
Another thruster firing this morning made Eureca’s orbit circular at about 315 miles.
″It’s acting the way they’re expecting it. It’s practically boring,″ said Daria Robinson, a spokeswoman for the European Space Agency, which owns the satellite.
The reusable platform satellite holds experiments using shrimp eggs, seeds, crystals, bacteria spores, solar monitors, cosmic dust catchers and a telescope. Its orbit will be lowered next spring so shuttle astronauts can pick it up and bring it back to Earth for study on the effects of space.
On Wednesday, the crew of five Americans, one Italian and one Swiss was forced to abandon an ambitious satellite-on-a-string experiment.
A snag in the 12 1/2 -mile-long cord linking Atlantis and the Italian Space Agency’s Tethered Satellite kept the orb within 850 feet of the shuttle.
The macaroni-thick tether generated 40 volts of electricity as it sped through Earth’s magnetic field. It would have produced 5,000 volts when fully extended.
The performance failed to meet any of the main goals of a project some scientists had worked on for 20 years.
In the final major objective of Atlantis’ mission, several instruments today were gathering environmental data as the orbiter circled 143 miles above the globe.
Shuttles normally don’t fly that low because of increased atmospheric drag and corrosion from atomic oxygen. But scientists want to see how those things affect materials being considered for use in a U.S. space station.
Atlantis was scheduled to land Saturday at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.