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Mission insignia
STS-38 patch.svg
Mission statistics
Mission name STS-38
Space shuttle Atlantis
Launch pad 39-A
Launch date November 15, 1990, 6:48:13 p.m. EST
Landing November 20, 1990, 4:42:42 p.m. EST
Mission duration 4/21:54:31
Number of orbits 79
Orbital altitude 142 nautical miles (263 km)
Orbital inclination 28.5 degrees
Distance traveled 2,030,000 miles (3,267,000 km)
Crew photo
Sts-38 crew.jpg
Related missions
Previous mission Next mission
STS-41 STS-41 STS-35 STS-35

STS-38 was a space shuttle mission by NASA using the Space Shuttle Atlantis. It was the 37th shuttle mission, and carried a classified payload for the U.S. Department of Defense. It was the 7th flight for Atlantis and the 7th flight dedicated to the Department of Defense. The mission was a 4-day mission that traveled 2 million miles and completed 79 revolutions. Atlantis landed at Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility's runway 33. The launch was originally scheduled for July 1990, but was rescheduled due to a hydrogen leak found on Space Shuttle Columbia during the STS-35 countdown. During a rollback to the Orbiter Processing Facility Atlantis was damaged during a hail storm. The eventual launch date of November 15 was set due to a payload problem. The launch window was between 6:30 and 10:30pm EST. The launch occurred at 6:48pm EST.



Position Astronaut
Commander Richard O. Covey
Third spaceflight
Pilot Frank L. Culbertson, Jr.
First spaceflight
Mission Specialist 1 Robert C. Springer
Second spaceflight
Mission Specialist 2 Carl J. Meade
First spaceflight
Mission Specialist 3 Charles D. Gemar
First spaceflight

Mission parameters

  • Mass:
    • Payload: Magnum ELINT satellite ~ 3,000 kg
    • Booster: IUS upper stage ~ 18,000 kg
    • Total: ~ 21,000 kg
  • Perigee: 78 km
  • Apogee: 226 km
  • Inclination: 28.5°
  • Period: 87.5 min

Mission highlights

Launch occurred November 15, 1990, 6:48:13 p.m. EST. Launch was originally scheduled for July 1990. However, a liquid hydrogen leak found on orbiter Columbia during STS-35 countdown prompted three precautionary tanking tests on Atlantis at pad June 29, July 13 and July 25. Tests confirmed the hydrogen fuel leak on the external tank side of the external tank/orbiter 17 inch (432 mm) quick disconnect umbilical.

Atlantis and Columbia pass.

This could not be repaired at the pad and Atlantis rolled back to the VAB on August 9, was demated, then transferred to the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF). During rollback, the vehicle remained parked outside the VAB for about a day while the Columbia/STS-35 stack was transferred to the pad for launch. While outside, Atlantis suffered minor hail damage to its tiles during a thunderstorm. After repairs were made in the OPF, Atlantis was transferred to the VAB for mating on October 2. During hoisting operations, the platform beam that should have been removed from aft compartment fell and caused minor damage which was repaired. The vehicle rolled out to Pad A on October 12. The fourth mini-tanking test was performed October 24, with no excessive hydrogen or oxygen leakage detected. During the Flight Readiness Review,the launch date was set for November 9. Launch reset for November 15 due to payload problems. Liftoff occurred during classified launch window lying within a launch period extending from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. EST, November 15, 1990.

During STS-38, Atlantis deployed USA-67 [1]. According to Aviation Week, this was a secret Magnum ELINT (ELectronic INTtelligence) gathering satellite headed for geosynchronous orbit like those launched by STS-51-C and STS-33, launched to monitor the events during the first Gulf War in 1990.

Also according to Aviation Week, the shuttle initially entered a 204 km x 519 km orbit at an inclination of 28.45° to the equator. It then executed three OMS (orbital manoeuvering system) burns, the last on orbit #4. The first of these circularized the orbit at 519 km.

Atlantis in orbit.
Sunlight on the ocean.

Later observers have speculated that USA-67 was instead a secret SDS-2 military communications satellite, like those deployed on STS-28 and STS-53.[2] [3] A publicly released image of the vertical stabilizer and upper aft bulkhead, similar to the one released from STS-53, confirms that the ASE (Airborne Support Equipment) for the IUS was absent from this flight. [1] The satellite was deployed on the 7th orbit and then ignited its rocket motor at the ascending node of the 8th orbit, to place it in a geo-synchronous transfer orbit.

Landing occurred November 20, 1990, 4:42:42 p.m. EST, Runway 33, Kennedy Space Center, FL. Rollout distance: 9,032 feet (2753 m). Rollout time: 57 seconds. Mission extended one day due to unacceptable crosswinds at original planned landing site, Edwards. Continued adverse conditions led to decision to shift landing to KSC. First KSC landing for Atlantis, first end-of-mission landing at KSC since April 1985. Landing Weight: 191,091 lb (86.667 Mg).

See also


External links



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