Saturday, June 16, 2007

Ups and Downs in Orbit

The bad news from space today is than an $83M Atlas V booster carrying two National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) satellites on a classified mission has placed its payload in the wrong orbit. The booster, launched yesterday from Cape Canaveral, shut down its upper-stage motor prematurely. Pentagon officials told Aviation Week the satellites can use their on-board maneuvering fuel to get into an acceptable orbit, although this will reduce their mission life. One unnamed official was quoted as saying, "The Atlas V people have a lot of explaining to do." (The Atlas is provided by the Boeing-Lockheed Martin United Launch Alliance and uses a Lockheed-Martin upper stage.)

Meanwhile, the Russian and American crews camped on the International Space Station had a good day. The balky Russian computers, after a few days of nerve-racking unreliability, seem to have settled down, with four of the six computer "channels" restored. At the same time, the astronauts of the docked shuttle Atlantis have stapled down the 10-cm flap of loose insulation on the thermal shielding blanket covering on of the Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) pods.

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