Summerland Key, Fla. — A multi-million dollar U.S. weather satellite in development for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been damaged for a second time in a factory accident, contractor and government officials said.
The incident occurred April 14 when Lockheed Martin engineers and technicians were rotating the 4.27-meter NOAA N-Prime spacecraft into a horizontal position inside a clean room at the company’s Sunnyvale, Calif., factory, said Lockheed Martin spokesman Buddy Nelson.
One of the spacecraft’s antennas broke loose from its nylon restraining cords and struck an atmospheric-measuring instrument known as an Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit (AMSU) , a NASA official said. NASA is managing development of N Prime for NOAA.
The impact “cracked some of [the] optical reflectors” on the surface of AMSU, the NASA official said. Those reflectors prevent sunlight from overheating the instrument, the NASA official said.
In the earlier incident, the NOAA N-Prime spacecraft fell nearly a meter onto a concrete floor Sept. 6, 2003. A subsequent anomaly report concluded the accident caused “severe damage” to the spacecraft. NOAA ultimately decided to rebuild NOAA N-Prime, which was in preparation for thermal vacuum tests.
NOAA spokesman John Leslie did not return a call seeking comment.
NASA and NOAA have formed a “mishap investigation” team, and the “spacecraft is sitting in impound condition,” the NASA official said.
Once the spacecraft is out of impound, engineers will need to assess whether the internal components of the AMSU instrument have been damaged, the NASA official said. “We’ll have to assess the shock.”
Nelson, in a prepared statement, said: “It appears that necessary repairs will be straightforward, resulting in minimal schedule impact.”
Since the spacecraft was destined for months of storage “this is not going to impact the launch date,” the NASA official said.
NOAA N-Prime is scheduled to be placed in storage in March 2008 for launch on a Delta rocket in February of 2009, the NASA official said. The spacecraft is supposed to bridge a potential gap between the last of NOAA’s Polar Operational Environmental Satellites and the first of the new Pentagon-NOAA National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System spacecraft. The specific dollar amount of damage and time to repair all affected components are still being assessed.