Launchlog '87: inching back into space.
At the beginning of 1986, NASA announcedplans for the year to include the most ambitious launch schedule in its history--as many as 25 missions, including 10 by space shuttle and 15 by "expendable launch vehicles' (ELVs). The first, by the shuttlecraft Columbia, was a success. Then Challenger exploded. On the next attempt, an "old reliable' ELV called a Delta had to be destroyed from the ground when its main engine shut off prematurely (and that was only two weeks after an Air Force Delta ELV had blown up in mid-ascent). NASA conducted only three more launchings in 1986, all will ELVs, and all of them worked.
This year, the agency plans ony sixlaunchings, the number it actually ended up with out of last year's scheduled 25, and fewer than it had previously attempted since 1958, when NASA was born. None of the six payloads, furthermore, will be NASA's own. Four are military, one a weather satellite for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the other a communications sattellite for the government of Indonesia.
The first of the lot, scheduled to be sentup on Feb. 19, will be NOAA's GOES-H, which will be renamed GOES-East (after it is successfully launched) and stationed over the Atlantic Ocean. When that happens, the single GOES now aloft will be shifted to the Pacific region as GOES-West.
GOES-H will be launched by a Deltarocket, similar to the one that had to be destroyed last May 3 and in the process destroyed its payload, GOES-G. Confirmation that Deltas are ready to fly again comes from the fact that, four months after the GOES-G debacle, another Delta took off and successfully deployed a target for a test of the Defense Department's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program.
NASA's second 1987 launching is scheduledfor Feb. 26, only a week after the first. This time an Atlas-Centaur rocket, which had no 1986 mishap, will carry the latest addition to the U.S. Navy's Fleet Satellite Communications series, FLTSATCOM F-6. To be used not only by the Navy but also by the Air Force and other Defense Department customers, it will be part of a program to have three second-generation FLTSATCOMs working in orbit at the same time.
The next launching is set for one monthlater, on March 19, this time with another Delta rocket, carrying Indonesia's Palapa B2-P communications satellite.
Then comes FLTSATCOM F-8, at presentlisted for May 21, again riding atop an Atlas-Centaur rocket.
The other kind of NASA rocket that successfullyput a payload in orbit last year was the smaller Scout, which on that occasion carried a satellite named Polar BEAR, for Polar Beacon Experiment and Auroral Research (SN: 12/6/86, p.361). This year's Scout will carry a pair of satellites together known as SOOS-2, for Stacked Oscars on Scout. Not to be confused with the OSCAR amateur-radio satellites (though some NASA officials have been known to make that mistake), SOOS-2 is a brace of navigation satellites for the Navy, of which a previous stack was launched in August 1985. Scheduled for September, it will also be NASA's only 1987 launching from the West Coast, using Vandenberg Air Force Base in California instead of Florida's Cape Canaveral.
The sixth and last NASA launch of theyear is to be another test in the SDI program, and again lofted by a Delta. This will be the second of four planned Delta launches in this series.
NASA has not yet announced its scheduleof ELV launches for 1988, but drawing more attention than any of them is expected to be the return to flight of the space shuttle. The agency's target date is Feb. 18, 1988, but officials stoutly maintain that the shuttle will not fly until its safety is assured, and it is not yet clear whether that date will turn out to have been overly optimistic.