Human Spaceflights

International Flight No. 133

STS-38

Atlantis (7)

USA

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Launch, orbit and landing data

Launch date:  15.11.1990
Launch time:  23:48 UTC
Launch site:  Cape Canaveral (KSC)
Launch pad:  39-A
Altitude:  260 - 269 km
Inclination:  28.4°
Landing date:  20.11.1990
Landing time:  21:42 UTC
Landing site:  Cape Canaveral (KSC)

walkout photo

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alternate crew photo

alternate crew photo

alternate crew photo

Crew

No.   Surname Given names Position Flight No. Duration Orbits
1  Covey  Richard Oswalt  CDR 3 4d 21h 54m  79 
2  Culbertson  Frank Lee, Jr.  PLT 1 4d 21h 54m  79 
3  Meade  Carl Joseph  MSP 1 4d 21h 54m  79 
4  Springer  Robert Clyde  MSP 2 4d 21h 54m  79 
5  Gemar  Charles Donald "Sam"  MSP 1 4d 21h 54m  79 

Crew seating arrangement

Launch
1  Covey
2  Culbertson
3  Meade
4  Springer
5  Gemar
Landing
1  Covey
2  Culbertson
3  Gemar
4  Springer
5  Meade

Flight

Launch from Cape Canaveral (KSC); landing on Cape Canaveral (KSC).

Launch was originally scheduled for July 1990. However, a liquid hydrogen leak found on orbiter Columbia during STS-35 countdown prompted three precautionary tanking tests on Atlantis at pad June 29, 1990, July 13, 1990 and July 25, 1990. Tests confirmed the hydrogen fuel leak on the external tank side of the external tank/orbiter 432 millimeters (17.0 in) quick disconnect umbilical. This could not be repaired at the pad and Atlantis rolled back to the VAB on August 09, 1990, was demated, then transferred to the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF). During rollback, the vehicle remained parked outside the VAB for about a day while the Columbia/STS-35 stack was transferred to the pad for launch. While outside, Atlantis suffered minor hail damage to its tiles during a thunderstorm. After repairs were made in the OPF, Atlantis was transferred to the VAB for mating on October 02, 1990. During hoisting operations, the platform beam that should have been removed from aft compartment fell and caused minor damage, which was repaired. The vehicle rolled out to Pad A on October 12, 1990. The fourth mini-tanking test was performed on October 24, 1990, with no excessive hydrogen or oxygen leakage detected. During the Flight Readiness Review, the launch date was set for November 09, 1990. Launch was reset for November 15, 1990 due to payload problems.

This flight was the seventh mission dedicated to the Department of Defense, and most information about it remained classified. For another time, NASA did not provide pre-launch commentary to the public until nine minutes before liftoff. It was the fifth military mission without a MSE among the crew members.

Main goal was the deployment of the reconnaissance satellite AFP-658 (Magnum-3; USA-67. According to Aviation Week, this satellite was gathering satellite headed for geosynchronous orbit like those launched by STS-51C and STS-33, launched to monitor the events during the first Gulf War in 1990. Also according to Aviation Week, the shuttle initially entered a 204 kilometers (127 mi) x 519 kilometers (322 mi) orbit at an inclination of 28.45° to the equator. It then executed three OMS (orbital maneuvering system) burns, the last on orbit #4. The first of these circularized the orbit at 519 kilometers (322 mi). Later observers have speculated that USA-67 was instead a secret SDS-2 military communications satellite, like those deployed on STS-28 and STS-53. A publicly released image of the vertical stabilizer and upper aft bulkhead, similar to the one released from STS-53, confirms that the ASE (Airborne Support Equipment) for the IUS was absent from this flight. The satellite was deployed on the 7th orbit and then ignited its rocket motor at the ascending node of the 8th orbit, to place it in a geo-synchronous transfer orbit. Rumours that now appear to have been substantiated by the identification of an "unknown" geostationary satellite by amateur observers insist that a second secret payload was deployed: Prowler. Prowler is reportedly a stealth satellite intended to covertly inspect other nation's geostationary satellites

The mission was extended one day, because of to high crosswinds at the original planned landing site Edwards AFB. Continued adverse conditions led to decision to shift landing to KSC.

Photos / Drawings

SDS-2 SDS-2
 

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Last update on November 28, 2014.