Firm Tests Satellite That Will Measure X-Rays

TRW Inc. completed the last major testing of a NASA satellite that will gather X-ray signals from outer space, and possibly provide clues about the origins of the universe, the company announced Wednesday.

"It's like a final exam. After we've spent several years building this, you want to ensure that everything is going to function properly in the environment of space," Brooks McKinney of TRW said.

The Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility satellite, or AXAF, underwent a monthlong thermal vacuum test in a 60-foot chamber designed to simulate the extreme heat and cold of outer space, McKinney said.

The satellite, which was designed by TRW for NASA, contains a 30-foot telescope and other instruments to measure X-rays in outer space.

"There are a lot of very high energy events underway in space which we can only observe in the X-ray domain," McKinney said. "We will gather these events and try to study the evolution of the universe." Although many company officials called the test results a solid success, a mechanical flaw with one of the satellite's instruments was discovered during the exam. Plans for repairs are being developed, officials said.

The satellite is scheduled for launch in January 1999 aboard the space shuttle Columbia.

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