NASA: Initial Discovery tasks slowed by broken antenna

Ku-Band antenna woes slow NASA study of data from inspection of heat shields

The malfunctioning Ku-Band antenna on the NASA space shuttle Discovery has forced crew members to seek new ways to complete scheduled tasks just a day into the crew's 13-day mission.

For example, the shuttle crew will have to delay transmitting data data from gathered during this morning's inspection of Discovery 's heat shield until after the shuttle docks with the International Space Station tomorrow.

Generally, data from the inspection, conducted by a robotic arm and Orbiter Boom Sensor System aboard the craft, is transmitted in real-time to NASA ground crews via the Ku-Band antenna. Today, though, the crew had to record a video of the inspection that will be transmitted to earth from the station.

The crew inspected the shuttle's thermal protection system tiles and reinforced carbon panels for any damage that might have occurred during takeoff. The inspection, which is standard NASA procedure in the hours after a shuttle launch, uses cameras and lasers at the end of the boom to provide 3-D views of the shuttle.

The images are transmitted to NASA's ground facilities for inspection by engineers there, who determine whether any further action is needed to protect the craft when it hits blazing hot temperatures during its re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.

Discovery lifted off early Monday morning from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Discovery is on a mission to deliver about 17,000 pounds of supplies and equipment - including science racks and new sleeping quarters for the space station's crew -- to the International Space Station.

The shuttle crew discovered the problems with the antenna soon after the craft entered into orbit around the earth yesterday, when its activation sequence failed. As of this afternoon, the antenna is still out of order.

The dish-shaped antenna is used for high data rate communications -- transmitting video images to the ground, as well as working with the shuttle's radar system to help the shuttle crew rendezvous with the space station.

The space agency yesterday noted that the shuttle has backup systems that will allow its scheduled rendezvous with the space station, though the process will be harder.

The shuttle is slated to dock with the space station at 3:44 a.m. EDT on Wednesday.

Shuttle crew members are slated to make three spacewalks during the mission to replace a gyroscope on the station's backbone, install a spare ammonia storage tank and retrieve a Japanese experiment underway on the station's exterior, according to NASA.

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Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld (US)
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