CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., April 5 (UPI) — Space shuttle Discovery reached orbit Monday after a near-perfect launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and then encountered a communication problem.
Shortly after attaining orbit following its 6:21 a.m. EDT liftoff, Discovery’s crew determined the shuttle’s Ku-band antenna was not operational.
NASA said the dish-shaped antenna is used for the fast transmission of data, including television, to Earth and for the shuttle’s radar system that is used during rendezvous with the International Space Station.
Space agency scientists said Discovery can safely rendezvous and dock with the space station and successfully complete all its planned mission objectives without use of the malfunctioning antenna.
The Ku antenna is also typically used by the crew during an inspection for launch damage, using the shuttle’s boon sensor system. If the antenna still is not working Tuesday, NASA said the crew will record the inspection video and play it back after docking, using the station’s Ku antenna.
Discovery is to dock with the space station Wednesday at 3:44 a.m. EDT.
The shuttle crew consists of Alan Poindexter, the commander, and astronauts Jim Dutton, Rick Mastracchio, Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson, Clay Anderson and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Naoko Yamazaki.
NASA said Dutton, Metcalf-Lindenburger and Yamazaki are making their first spaceflights and are the last rookies to fly aboard a shuttle before the program ends.
The STS-131 mission is Discovery’s 38th and its next-to-last flight. Only three shuttle missions are left, with Discovery to make the final flight of the shuttle program Sept. 16.
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