Discovery launch seen from St. Johns County

Shortly before 6:30 a.m., local St. Johns County news reporters watched as space shuttle Discovery completed a successful liftoff with its seven-member crew.

Shortly after reaching orbit today, Candrea Thomas, Space Shuttle Processing staff-member at Kennedy Space Center, advised Historic City News that the shuttle’s Ku-Band antenna did not successfully complete its standard initial activation sequence — and is not operational at this time.

The dish-shaped antenna is used for high data rate communications with the ground, including television, and for the shuttle’s radar system that is used during rendezvous with the International Space Station. Discovery can safely rendezvous and dock with the station and successfully complete all of its planned mission objectives without use of the Ku-Band antenna, if needed. The Ku-Band system is one of several shuttle communications systems that can be used for transmission of voice and data to and from the ground. The other systems — S-band and UHF — are operating normally.

Discovery also has multiple systems that provide backup capability for the rendezvous radar system. In addition, the station has a Ku-band system that also is used for transmission of television to the ground and can be used to transmit shuttle television views after docking.

STS-131 Flight controllers are continuing to troubleshoot the problem with Discovery’s Ku-band antenna while also formulating plans to conduct the mission without use of the shuttle Ku system if necessary.

The Ku antenna is typically used by the crew and the ground teams during flight day 2’s inspection using the OBSS. If the Ku still is not working tomorrow, the crew will record all of the inspection video and play it back after docking with the station, using the station’s Ku antenna. The crew will monitor the video in real time tomorrow and will note the time stamps of any areas of concern.

The astronauts have a busy schedule in the days ahead. The 13-day mission, officially known as STS-131, will see the crew perform three spacewalks.

They’ll also dock with the ISS to deliver the Leonardo multi-purpose logistics module containing science racks for use in the various labs throughout the station.

The astronauts will also collect a Japanese science experiment and switch out a gyro assembly on part of the station’s truss structure, according to the space agency.

Discovery is commanded by U.S. Navy Captain Alan Poindexter, 48, of Rockville, MD. Three of the crewmembers—pilot Jim Dutton, mission specialist Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, and mission specialist Naoko Yamakazi of the Japanese Space Agency—are making their first flights into space.

Only three more shuttle flights remain before the vehicles are retired at the end of this year. Under a plan put forth by the Obama Administration, NASA will effectively outsource transportation of crew and supplies to the ISS to private launch contractors.

President Obama also called for the cancellation of the Constellation program, which would have seen astronauts return to the moon by 2020 in a new space vehicle made up of the Orion crew capsule and Ares rocket.

Critics, including senators in states where NASA is a major employer, have said Obama’s plan will leave the U.S. trailing other countries in the space race.

Share your thoughts with our readers >>