The arrival of the Space Shuttle made it possible for the first time to retrieve valuable satellites either repairing them in orbit or returning them to Earth in the cargo bay for more complex refurbishment

The most eyecatching of the Shuttle's early flights came in April 1984, when Challenger launched into an unusually high orbit at the start of the STS-41C mission. After deploying the LDEF satellite (see p.198), the Shuttle's main goal was to rendezvous with a crippled satellite 556km (345 miles) above the Earth and restore it to working order.

The target was the Solar Maximum Mission satellite (SolarMax for short), launched in 1980 to study activity on the Sun but unable to target its instruments thanks to a failure in its control systems. A first attempt to grapple with the satellite, using an MMU piloted by George D. Nelson, failed, and a second try at grabbing SolarMax with the Shuttle's manipulator arm simply sent it into a chaotic spin. The following day, things went better, and the satellite was safely brought into the cargo bay, where it was anchored to a special repair platform. The repairs themselves were lengthy but successful, upgrading the satellite's scientific payload as well as replacing its attitude control system. After two spacewalks, SolarMax was released back into orbit, where it continued to function until it burned up on re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere in 1989.

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