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Bolt Blamed for Jammed Tether on Satellite

August 29, 1992

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ A tiny bolt that got in the way apparently caused a reel of cord to jam, ruining space shuttle Atlantis’ satellite-on-a-string experiment earlier this month, NASA said Friday.

A National Aeronautics and Space Administration investigative board issued that preliminary finding after inspecting the $128 million tether and reel assembly at Kennedy Space Center this week.

Atlantis’ astronauts unreeled the copper and fiber cord only 840 feet, far short of the intended 12 1/2 miles. As a result, the crew had to abandon an experiment to generate electricity along the tether as the shuttle and the Italian-made satellite raced through Earth’s magnetic field.

NASA said a visual inspection indicated that a one-quarter-inch diameter bolt got in the way and jammed the line.

″The ... mechanism, which operates similar to the way a fishing reel feeds out line, contacted the end of the bolt, preventing it from moving all the way out to its stopping point,″ NASA said.

The bolt was part of a structural change made earlier this year to strengthen the tether system’s attach points to better withstand the rigors of launch and landing, NASA said.

Investigators plan to test the tether system, built by Martin Marietta Corp., to verify their findings.

They also hope to pinpoint the causes of three other malfunctions that occurred in orbit: a stuck electrical plug, an aborted attempt to release the satellite, and the temporary inability to pull the satellite in or out at 735 feet.

Even without those problems, the bolt would have prevented full deployment of the satellite, the investigators said.

The Italian Space Agency wants another chance to fly its satellite. But shuttle managers say there is little chance of making room for it on another mission for at least two years.

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