Today mission managers and experts in various flight control areas are meeting to formulate a plan for retrieval of the Spartan science satellite following the apparent failure of its attitude control system to activate.
The satellite is at a safe distance in front of Columbia of about 23 nautical miles (about 42 kilometers) and plans call for the crew to maintain the orbiter’s distance to protect plans to rendezvous with the spacecraft on Monday to retrieve it either by mechanical arm or manually as part of a spacewalk by mission specialists Winston Scott and Takao Doi. As part of their routine pre-mission spacewalk training, the two astronauts trained for just such a contingency should it be required.
Though mission specialist Kalpana Chawla released Spartan from the robot arm on time at 3:04 p.m. yesterday, it did not execute a pre-programmed pirouette maneuver designed to verify its attitude control system was functional. Spartan officials last night said it appeared the small control jets failed to activate, leaving the satellite without the ability to orient itself for science collection.
Chawla attempted to recapture Spartan moments later, but did not receive an indication of grapple and backed the arm away, apparently initiating a rotational spin of about two degrees per second on the satellite. After attempting to match the rotation for another capture attempt, commander Kevin Kregel performed an orbiter separation maneuver to move Columbia away from the Spartan.
Special teams will meet today to formulate a formal course of action that will be finalized Sunday.
Meanwhile, the crew will spend the day checking out the Extravehicular Mobility Units, or spacesuits, and tools that will be used for Monday’s spacewalk. The options for the spacewalk include retrieving the satellite and accomplishing as many of the activities that had been scheduled during the time available to test hardware and techniques that will be used on the International Space Station.
The scientific data being collected by other experiments that make up the United States Microgravity Payload are unaffected by the Spartan satellite problems and retrieval efforts underway.
The crew wakeup call from Mission Control at about 9:45 this morning signals the start of flight day 4 for Columbia’s STS-87 mission.
The next status report will be about 6 p.m.
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