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Botched Launch Probe Delays NASA

April 17, 1999

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ NASA’s $1.5 billion Chandra X-ray telescope may have to remain on Earth a while longer due to an investigation into a stranded military satellite.

The Air Force has impounded an upper-stage motor intended for the telescope, to be launched in July aboard space shuttle Columbia. It’s the same kind of motor that apparently malfunctioned April 9 and left the Defense Department’s newest Defense Support Program satellite in a useless orbit.

The telescope-delivery mission already is a year late because of bad circuit boards that had to be replaced in Chandra and other problems.

``This telescope is a multibillion-dollar investment. You can rest assured the program is not going to go launch it until all the open questions have been answered,″ said payload manager Scott Higginbotham.

The stranded military satellite is spinning so fast in its lopsided orbit that Air Force controllers have yet to unfurl its electricity-generating solar panels.

``They’re continually trying to work with it,″ Staff Sgt. Steve Horton of Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado said Friday. ``There’s always a hope that they can recover it and rescue it and get it into its proper orbit.″

The $250 million satellite needs to be in a circular 22,300-mile-high orbit in order to perform its missile-warning job.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is working with the Air Force’s accident investigation board, which convened earlier this week.

The Air Force must deliver the impounded Boeing-built motor to NASA by the end of April if the space agency hopes to meet its July 9 launch date for Chandra, said Higginbotham.

Chandra, a Hubble-caliber observatory, should have rocketed into orbit last summer. 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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