The New Guys Deliver

By the time Paul Weitz' crew brought Challenger swooping into Edwards Air Force Base on April 9th 1983, the STS-7 launch date had slipped to "no earlier than" June 18th. Even as the new orbiter slowed to a halt, two-thirds of the components for her next mission were already in place on the other side of the United States. In High Bay Three of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), the fully stacked Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) had been attached to their External Tank (ET) on March 2nd.

When Challenger finally returned to Florida on April 17th, atop the heavily modified Boeing 747 airliner, it was a race against the clock to ready her for a mid-June lift-off. In a quite remarkable turnaround that was trumpeted by NASA in its STS-7 press kit, Challenger was overhauled, the payloads from her last mission removed and support hardware for her next set of equipment installed and she was rolled into the VAB on May 21st. At just 34 days, turnaround was accomplished a week faster than the previous record holder, STS-4 in June 1982.

The speedy processing flow was, however, a worrying harbinger of future problems and would be one of several issues highlighted during the inquiry by the Rogers Commission into flawed decision making that contributed to Challenger's loss in January 1986.

Many of the time savings were achieved by deleting the need to repeat tests of systems that had operated perfectly throughout STS-6. Other important tasks included repairing damaged areas of the two Orbital Manoeuvring System (OMS) pods with around 170 white tiles; similarly, sections of Challenger's elevons - the flap-like assemblies at the rear of her wings - required replacement with new thermal protection material. Elsewhere, an additional seat for Thagard was installed on the middeck and the RMS (not carried on STS-6) was fitted alongside the port side payload bay sill.

Following attachment to her boosters and tank on May 24th and rollout to Pad 39A two days later, preparations to insert Challenger's cargo began in earnest. Although SPAS, with its rendezvous commitment, was among the most visible of the STS-7 payloads, the commercial focus was a pair of drum-shaped communications satellites: one belonging to Canada, the other to Indonesia. Both arrived by aircraft at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on November 30th 1982 and were transferred to the Vertical Processing Facility (VPF) for checkout.

Less than six months later, on May 23rd 1983, the satellites and their attached solid rockets - each encased in a lightweight sunshade to protect it from temperature extremes in low-Earth orbit - were moved to the pad and loaded aboard Challenger. Looking 'down' on her payload bay, it seemed that two oversized versions of Pacman were sitting there, for when the protective sunshades opened to expose the satellites shortly prior to deployment, they looked just like a pair of jaws from the children's game. Fortunately, unlike the real Pacman, these jaws were designed to release something, rather than gobble it up.

Each cradle was composed of a series of machined aluminium frames and chrome-plated steel longeron and keel trunnion fittings, covered with Mylar insulation and measuring 2.4 m long and 4.6 m wide. At the base of the cradle was a turntable that used two electric motors to impart the required spin rate, which varied between 45 and 100 revolutions per minute, depending on the stability needs of the payload, together with a spring ejection system to release the satellite and its booster. During ascent, two restraint arms held the precious satellites steady inside their sunshades and, shortly after reaching space, the Pacman jaws were closed to protect them from the thermal extremes of low-Earth orbit. At operational geosynchronous altitudes, on the other hand, they would rotate to even out thermal stresses.

The 620 kg Anik-C2 satellite was built by the Hughes Aircraft Company at its El Segundo plant in California, but owned by the Ottawa-based Telesat Canada concern, between which fabrication contracts had been signed in April 1978. It offered, for the first time, rooftop-to-rooftop voice, data and video business communications, together with Canadian pay television and other broadcasting services. With this in mind, it seems fitting that the word 'anik' translates to 'little brother' in Inuit.

After their construction, Anik-C 1 and C2 were placed into storage until suitable dates could be established to launch them both. By coincidence, Anik-C3's completion occurred at the same time as Telesat's first contracted flight opportunity on the Shuttle, so it was decided to take it straight from the factory to the launch pad. Anik-C3 thus rode aboard Columbia on STS-5 in November 1982 - the first 'commercial' Shuttle mission - followed by Anik-C2 on Crippen's flight and Anik-Cl aboard the orbiter Discovery in the spring of 1985. Telesat reportedly paid NASA somewhere between nine and ten million dollars to launch Anik-C2 alone.

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