STS-63 was launched at 0522:04 on Feb 3 from Kennedy Space Center. Discovery was easily visible to the naked eye from here in the Boston area in the seconds preceding main engine cutoff (MECO) at 0530. It entered a 310 x 341 km x 51.6 deg, 91.1 min orbit. Discovery's crew were Jim Wetherbee, Eileen Collins, Bernard Harris, Mike Foale, Janice Voss, and the Russian Space Agency's Vladimir Titov. On board Mir were Valeriy Polyakov, Aleksandr Viktorenko, and Elena Kondakova.
Discovery deployed the six ODERACS calibration objects on Feb 4. On Feb 6 at 1816 UTC Discovery arrived at 120m from Mir. After stationkeeping at that distance, the crew were given the go to proceed in to a close approach (a leaky thruster had been shut off). The body of the Shuttle was parallel to the core of the Mir station, with the bay facing the Kristall module where Atlantis will dock in June. The Shuttle began the approach at 1840 and at around 1929 UTC it reached a distance of 11m. Discovery remained stationkeeping at the 11m distance for about 5 minutes, and then backed off to the 120m point again. It then carried out a flyaround of the complex starting at 2016, and making a final burn to end the rendezvous at around 2113.
On Feb 7 the RMS arm again unberthed the Spartan-204 satellite, and at 1226 Titov released it from the arm for a free flight to make UV spectroscopic observations of the interstellar medium. The satellite was retrieved at 1133 on Feb 9 and berthed shortly afterwards. Mission Specialists Bernard Harris and Mike Foale carried out a 15-minute cold soak test of their modified Hamilton Standard EMU spacesuits; earlier EVA crews have had problems with getting their hands too cold while in shadow. Next, Harris practised moving the Spartan satellite around by hand to gain experience for Space Station assembly tasks, but a second such exercise by Foale was cancelled when the astronauts reported cold hands. The EVA ended after 4h 39m at 1535 UT. Development of heated spacesuit gloves is to be accelerated.
The STS-63 mission was completed successfully with main gear touchdown on Kennedy Space Center's Runway 15 at 1150:19 UT on Feb 11.
Endeavour was rolled over to the VAB on Feb 3 for stacking with the ET and SRBs. It will fly in March on the Astro 2 mission.
More details on EXPRESS: The TVC (thrust vector control) on the second stage malfunctioned 103 seconds after launch, and the fourth stage and payload eventually entered a 110 x 250 km x 33 deg orbit (source: Av Week), instead of the intended 270 x 380 km one. The reentry capsule and the service module, still attached to each other, reentered over the Pacific between 1600 and 1630, on its second orbit of the Earth.
A Tsikada navigation satellite was launched by Kosmos-3M from Plesetsk at 0354 UTC on Jan 24 into a 965 x 1020 km x 82.9 deg orbit. The Tsikada series of navigation satellites uses similar technology to the US Navy's Transit system. This Tsikada satellite was equipped with a special adapter and carried two microsatellites into orbit, ASTRID and FAISAT.
ASTRID is the Swedish Space Corporation's latest space physics satellite, using the new Freja-C bus, a 0.4 m cube with 4 solar panel wings. The payload, which will emphasize studies of energetic neutral particles in the Earth's magnetosphere, includes PIPPI, the neutral particle imager; MIO, the miniature UV imaging system (with optical, UV continuum and Lyman alpha monitors) and EMIL, an electron spectrometer. The 26 kg satellite separated from the Tsikada adapter at 0458 UTC.
FAISAT is a 114 kg store and forward communications satellite modified by Final Analysis, Inc., an American company from an existing satellite bus whose mission was cancelled (probably a DARPA satellite). It separated from the adapter at 0919 UTC.
A Chinese Long March (Chang Zheng) 2E launch vehicle was destroyed one minute after takeoff on Jan 25. The payload, Asia Pacific Telecom (APT) Satellite Co's Apstar 2 communications satellite, was lost. It was a Hughes HS-601 comsat; Apstar 1, launched in Jul 1994 by CZ-3, was an HS-376 model. Reports indicate that 6 people were killed and 27 injured by debris from the explosion of the CZ-2E launch vehicle.
The UHF Follow-On F4 satellite (also known as EHF F4) was launched on Jan 29. The Hughes HS-601 class satellite was launched on a Martin Marietta Atlas II, flight AC-112. The satellite is a 3.2 x 3.4 x 3.4 m box which deploys to a height of 7.0 m and a solar wingspan of 18.3 m on orbit. It will eventually reach geostationary orbit. This UHF satellite is the first to also carry an EHF communications payload; it had a mass of about 3000 kg at orbit insertion and will be around 1200 kg on orbit.
Feb 11 Discovery Landed at KSC
Jonathan McDowell (©Jonathan McDowell 1994)