Tim Furniss/LONDON


The launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour STS99 on the 11-day Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) has been set for 31 January. The launch might be delayed by the need to check and, if necessary, replace thermal protection system tiles on the elevons of the orbiter.

If work is necessary, the launch date could still be met, but if it slips two days, the lift-off will have to be rescheduled to no earlier than 8 February to accommodate other launch commitments at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The SRTM is an international project spearheaded by the National Imagery and Mapping Agency and NASA, and includes German aerospace research body DLR. The mission's aim is to generate a high-resolution digital topographic database of the Earth.

The mission will use C-band and X-band interferometric synthetic aperture radars to acquire topographic data of the Earth's land mass and produce digital map products. The mission could produce as many as a trillion measurements of the Earth's topography, says NASA, "contributing to the production of better maps, improved water drainage modelling, more realistic flight simulators, better locations for cellphone towers, and enhanced navigation safety".

Meanwhile, the space agency may attempt a space repair or retrieval of the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (GRO) on an emergency Space Shuttle mission this year. NASA is considering launching the Shuttle on a mission to the GRO, which has attitude control problems. NASA wants to conduct a controlled re-entry of the GRO before the spacecraft becomes uncontrollable. The GRO, the first of NASA's Great Observatory series, was launched on STS37 in 1991.

Meanwhile, the Hubble Space Telescope, serviced in space by the STS 103 mission in December, resumed science operations on 10 January.

The Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 took images of the Abell galaxy cluster and the Eskimo nebula earlier this month.

Source: Flight International