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NASA’s X-ray Telescope Grounded

April 28, 1999

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ NASA’s $1.5 billion Chandra X-ray telescope will remain stuck on Earth several extra weeks because of an Air Force investigation into a stranded satellite.

The telescope was supposed to soar aboard space shuttle Columbia on July 9. NASA officials said Wednesday that the launch is off until at least the end of July.

NASA wants to wait until the Air Force’s investigation is complete before proceeding with the Chandra launch. The mission already is a year late because of bad circuit boards that had to be replaced in the telescope and other problems.

Each month’s delay costs NASA $6 million to $8 million, said agency spokesman Dave Drachlis.

Earlier this month, the Air Force impounded the upper-stage motor intended for the telescope. It’s the same kind of motor that apparently malfunctioned April 9 and left the military’s newest Defense Support Program satellite in a useless orbit.

The Air Force eventually released the upper-stage motor for launch preparations, but NASA decided this week to hold off on attaching it to the telescope. What, if anything, the Air Force had learned from impounding the motor was not disclosed.

Air Force spokeswoman Patsy Bomhoff said Wednesday that controllers still were working with the stranded DSP satellite and had made ``great strides″ in trying to salvage it. But she said it will never reach the intended 22,300-mile-high orbit.

As for Chandra, it’s come a long way despite the latest trouble, said Ed Weiler, head of NASA’s space science program.

``It’s been delayed now, what, almost a year,″ he said. ``I can guarantee you one thing. Every `i’ and `t’ is going to be dotted and crossed before this thing is launched.″

Chandra, a Hubble-caliber observatory, should have rocketed into orbit last August. Unlike Hubble, the X-ray telescope will be placed in an orbit too high to be reached by spacewalking astronauts so it will be irreparable once launched.

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