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Satellite Spins out of Control

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A recently launched satellite spun out of control March 5, leaving NASA officials scrambling to find a way to salvage the $67 million mission. The Wide-Field Infrared Explorer satellite apparently began spinning as a result of hydrogen gas venting from a cryogenic system needed to keep the onboard telescope cold. The escaping gas acted as a thruster, propelling the spacecraft into an unrecoverable spin.

NASA officials are not sure why the hydrogen began melting, but some have theorized that a telescope cover may have ejected prematurely, exposing the system to direct sunlight. The satellite does not have thrusters of its own; less powerful magnetic torque wheels gently steer the spacecraft.
The aim of the mission was to help scientists better understand how and why galaxies formed. The craft is equipped with a 12.5-in. Cassegrain telescope with IR detectors.

Photonics Spectra
Apr 1999
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