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NASA sets shuttle launch date, schedule.

NASA sets shuttle launch date, schedule

Thursday, Feb. 18, 1988, two years and three weeks the catastrophic explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, has been established by NASA as its projected date for when shuttle flights will begin again. "That's primarily for internal use.... My temptation was to say, 'February sometime,'" said agency administrator James C. Fletcher last week in making the announcement. But as a planning date it is real, and it is item one on a detailed "manifest" of what NASA has scheduled to fly on the shuttle extending into 1994.

As well as trying to grapple with a major backlog of planned Defense Department shuttle flights and with delays in several major space-science missions, the manifest "complies with White House policy that NASA will no longer launch commercial and foreign payloads except those that are shuttle-unique or those that have national security or foreign policy implications," according to Fletcher. Even among 44 commercial payloads for whose launchings NASA had already signed contracts before the Challenger disaster, only 19 or 20 have been rescheduled, leaving the rest of the customers with a firm message to look elsewhere, such as at expendable rockets from the United States, Europe, China or other countries.

The manifest's first year lists five launches, the first of which is to be a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRSC), one of which was destroyed with Challenger, and whose type is projected as an essential element in NASA's space communications plans. Another TDRS is scheduled for the fourth launching (many plans for the system require a pair of satellites), tentatively listed for Sept. 22 of the same year.

Flights 2 and 3 are for the Department of Defense (DOD), which was assigned roughly a third of the shuttle manifest even before the Challenger tragedy scrambled everyone's plans. For the seven years covered by the new manifest, DOD's piece of the action will average about 41 percent, with most of the increase devoted to backlog-reducing missions through 1990. Ten shuttle launchings through 1990. Ten shuttle launchings are scheduled in 1989, of which four are "dedicated" DOD missions while the payloads of two more each include a pair of navigation and positioning satellites for the military Global Positioning System (GPS). Four of 11 launches in 1990 are DOD-only, with GPS satellites on three more.

The final launching of 1988, the shuttle's first year back on the pads, is to deploy the 24-meter Hubble Space Telescope, envisioned as operating in orbit for as long as 20 years with repeated instrument changes and service calls by the shuttle. Formerly to have been launched two months ago, it is expected to be able to pick up light from stars so distant that their emissions originated during the early evolution of the universe. "We look forward to it," says Samuel W. Keller, NASA associate administrator for science and applications, "as being the greatest scientific instrument that man has ever built."

Manifested for the third mission of 1989 is Magellan, designed to map Venus by high-resolution radar. The interest of planetary scientists is focused on Magellan also because the craft will represent the first U.S. interplanetary launching in more than a decade. Also listed are the Galileo orbiter and probe of Jupiter and the European Ulysses mission to study the sun's poles (both of which were to have been launched this year) as well as the U.S. Mars Observer (which was previously expected to follow about two years behind a 1988-launched Soviet mission to Mars and its moons). None of these projects yet has a firm launch date, though the manifest lists possibilities.

Meanwhile, the shuttle manifest, though carefully wrought as a result of extensive negotiations, must still pass several major milestones, such as qualification of the craft's redesigned solid-rocket boosters. The struggle is not over.
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Author:Eberhart, Jonatahn
Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 11, 1986
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