PASADENA, Calif. -- The latest attempt to free the stuck antenna on the Jupiter-bound Galileo spacecraft has failed, placing the $1.4 billion mission in dire jeopardy.
Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory here had hoped to use the coldness of space to chill and shrink part of the antenna, thus freeing three stuck ribs, but by yesterday it had become clear that the strategy has not worked.
"It's a disappointment," said project manager William O'Neil, but he said that the technique will be tried again in December when Galileo will be even farther from the sun -- and thus colder -- than it is now.
The $3.7 million gold-plated antenna is designed to open like an inverted umbrella, and it must be fully opened for Galileo to send back the thousands of photographs and reams of scientific data it is to collect during a two-year tour of Jupiter and its moons beginning in 1995. Without the 16-foot-wide antenna, all but a tiny amount of that priceless data, and all of the photographs, will be lost.
Engineers believe their latest effort may have failed because they missed their desired temperature by only a few degrees and could not get the craft colder than minus-238 degrees Fahrenheit.
Those who have been working on the Galileo project for more than a decade will watch a large chunk of their lives disappear into space with the 2 1/2 -ton spacecraft if the antenna cannot be opened. Although there is still time to work on the problem, the odds of success are worsening.
Scientists are in a Catch-22 predicament in that they need the antenna to be especially cold to free the stuck ribs, but they need it to be relatively warm for the motors that drive the ribs to operate at maximum efficiency. If the ribs are still stuck in December 1992, it may be too late to solve the problem because Galileo will enter its final course toward Jupiter, growing colder with each passing day.