And 6 more years of science



After these heroics, the rest of the repair mission went more or less according to the (amended) script. The crew was able to retrieve the satellite, fix its attitude control system and coronagraph/polarimeter instrument as planned, then redeploy Solar Max in its 500-km-high orbit on April 12.

Barely was the satellite back in service again when it got the chance to observe the eruption of a major solar flare, through what Solar Max project scientist Bruce Woodgate calls “a combination of anticipation and rapid re-pointing.” The satellite had been near the middle of a 30-day engineering checkout period when, on April 23, the onboard hard X ray burst spectrometer began detecting flare bursts in a particularly active region on the sun. Project scientists then requested Goddard technicians to move the satellite and point its narrow field instruments at the active region, with the result that half an hour later the satellite was perfectly positioned to record the largest flare of the current solar cycle occuring on the sun. “We got lucky there,” says Woodgate. So interesting were the data returning from this flare region that Solar Max was scheduled to remain in its “science mode” for about 2 weeks before picking up again with the engineering healthchecks.