The crew of the space shuttle Discovery, working by the light of the moon, today deployed the first of two new communications satellites before tackling the tougher task of salvaging two satellites lost in space since last February.
"We've got good news," astronaut Joseph P. Allen told the Mission Control Center in Houston. "The deployment went without any problems at all and right on time. We've got an empty pallet here and it looks like we have room to pick up a satellite or two."
"We plan to do just that," replied astronaut Ronald E. McNair from Mission Control. "One down and one to go."
The satellite that spun out of Discovery's cargo bay was a two-story-tall cylindrical Anik (Eskimo for "brother") belonging to Telesat of Canada.
It will be positioned 22,400 miles above the equator, aligned with the Canadian provinces Alberta and Saskatchewan. The satellite is designed to serve all of Canada with telephone, TV and radio transmissions for at least eight years.
After deploying the satellite, Allen, Frederick H. Hauck, David M. Walker, Anna L. Fisher and Dale A. Gardner moved Discovery away to await the 85-second satellite motor blast that sent Anik on its way to higher orbit.
Minutes later, McNair told Allen, "The spacecraft is in good shape and on its way. You might be interested to know that the first Anik was launched 12 years ago today."
Allen told McNair, "It was an eerie feeling to deploy the satellite in the moonlight."
Allen said the only light they had over the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean was the light of the almost-full moon reflected off the dark Earth below.
The successful launch of the Anik satellite was the first use of the satellite onboard engine in space since identical motors failed twice eight months ago, sending a Palapa satellite and a Westar VI satellite into orbits no higher than 700 miles instead of the 22,400-mile orbit for which they were targeted. Discovery will try to salvage Palapa and Westar VI next week in the first attempt at retrieving errant satellites.
Before the salvage attempts, the crew is to deploy one more communications satellite, built by Hughes Aircraft Corp., that will be leased by the U.S. Navy. It was to be dropped off Saturday morning over the Pacific Ocean, destined for an equatorial orbit just east of Brazil.
Discovery's crew was busy throughout its flight with maneuvers to rendezvous with the Palapa satellite on Monday and the Westar satellite on Wednesday.
Flying below and behind the two satellites, Discovery was closing in on Palapa at a rate of 240 miles an hour. By 6 p.m. EST today, Discovery was 7,300 miles behind Palapa, having made up almost 10,000 miles of space in less than 24 hours. The Westar satellite is on the same orbital path as Palapa about 715 miles ahead of it.
"That's just where we want it," flight director Larry Bourgeois said at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. "Everything is going along as we want it."
While busy most of the day, the astronauts still had time to hear news from home.
Astronaut Fisher, the fourth American woman and first mother to go into space, got a message from McNair that her 16-month-old daughter and her husband, William, who also is an astronaut, had visited Mission Control. "Kristin was here a minute ago, looking on television at you," McNair told Fisher. "She really got a big kick out of seeing you before she decided to take a nap."
From space, Kristin's mother replied, "Oh, that's good news. Thanks."
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that the European Space Agency's Ariane-3 rocket carried two commercial satellites into space on schedule tonight from the space center in Kourou, French Guiana, South America's northeastern coast.
The launch was the 11th of an Ariane rocket and third with a commercial payload. The unmanned rocket carried an American and a European satellite.
The Ariane can put heavy satellites direct into high geostationary orbit, a continuous orbit over one point on Earth.
The U.S. shuttle goes into a lower orbit, and its satellites are boosted by rocket to higher altitudes.