NASA: Key antenna fails as Discovery enters orbit

Space shuttle's Ku-Band antenna is used during rendezvous with International Space Station

After a successful launch early this morning, NASA officials later discovered a snag when the space shuttle Discovery entered its orbit around the earth.

NASA today reported that the shuttle's Ku-Band antenna did not complete its activation sequence after Discovery entered Earth orbit. The antenna was still not working this afternoon, according to NASA's Web site.

The dish-shaped antenna is used for high data rate communications -- transmitting video images, as well as working with the shuttle's radar system -- with members of the ground crew and with astronauts on the International Space Station.

The space agency pointed out, though, that the shuttle has backup systems and still will be able to rendezvous with the space station. It may, however, take a little extra work to make that happen now.

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

Discovery lifted off at 6:21 a.m. Eastern time today from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. During a 13-day mission in space, Discovery's seven crew members are expected to deliver some 17,000 pounds of supplies and equipment to the space station.

The shuttle is carrying new sleeping quarters for the space station's crew and science racks for its various laboratories.

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.

NASA noted on its Web site this afternoon that onboard flight controllers are troubleshooting the problem with Discovery's Ku-band antenna, while also working on plans to complete the mission without it if necessary.

The Ku-Band system is just one of several communications systems onboard the shuttle that can be used to send and receive voice and data. The other systems --- S-band and UHF -- are operating normally, NASA noted.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld.
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