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17 April 2014 12:48 pm ,
Vol. 344 ,
Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
- About Us
Space Observatory Launch Delayed--Again
20 January 1999 7:00 pm
Astronomers will have to cool their heels awhile longer for the debut of a long-anticipated space observatory. Newly discovered flaws in key circuit boards will hold up the space shuttle launch of the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF) at least until May, NASA officials announced today. The 5-week setback for the troubled $2 billion telescope also promises to complicate construction of the international space station and maintenance of the Hubble Space Telescope.
For 2 decades, scientists have been planning the giant orbiting AXAF telescope, which is designed to capture detailed images of galaxies, quasars, and other celestial objects. But costly delays have plagued the craft, originally slated for launch last summer, prompting NASA to appoint a special review panel to oversee the project. Those troubles appeared to be over last week when contractor TRW Inc. of Redondo Beach, California, prepared to ship AXAF, recently renamed the Chandra Observatory, to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for an April launch.
But on 15 January, TRW engineers testing an unrelated communications satellite discovered flaws in the copper plating on some circuit boards that were similar to 129 boards installed on the observatory. So far, NASA officials have inspected about a third of Chandra's suspect components and discovered two boards with defects that could block the flow of electric current and potentially disable the telescope. They won't know until next week how many more boards will have to be replaced but believe the total will not exceed 22. Recovering from that worst case scenario could take several months, NASA officials said.
In the meantime, researchers have little choice but to hope that the craft, whenever it is finally launched, is spaceworthy. Because its orbit will take it outside the shuttle's operating range, astronauts will not be able to fix the Chandra once it is in space, as they can the Hubble telescope. "Failure is not an option here," says NASA's Ken Ledbetter.
NASA officials must also sort out a shuttle schedule scrambled by the delay. Both the Chandra and an essential Hubble repair trip scheduled for August 2000 can fly only aboard the shuttle Columbia, which is outfitted for the missions. But Columbia will be grounded for a lengthy overhaul later this year. That means another shuttle may have to be reconfigured for Hubble repairs if Chandra delays make it impossible for Columbia to be spruced up in time for the Hubble mission. That switch, in turn, could disrupt shuttle flights needed to assemble the international space station, NASA officials say.