HOUSTON — The astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis, taking care of paying customers first, launched a communications satellite for Mexico on Wednesday and later deployed one for Australia, with one more to go before they turn their attention to a pair of spacewalks.
The Australian satellite, called Aussat 2, was launched from the shuttle cargo bay Wednesday evening. It is designed to relay television signals and handle a variety of domestic telecommunications services.
Atlantis' crew of six men and a woman launched a Mexican satellite, the Morelos B, early Wednesday, just hours after the spectacular nighttime liftoff of the space shuttle from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The launch of the RCA Satcom K-2 satellite today will empty Atlantis' cargo bay and clear the way for the two spacewalks on which astronauts will practice techniques for building future space stations.
The three satellite customers are paying about $10 million each to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for the launch services.
Mission commander Brewster Shaw tested all systems aboard Atlantis and reported that one of four videotape recorders was not working.
"I can't seem to make it come to life," he said. Mission Control gave him permission to take apart an electronic cabinet to look for a wiring flaw, but Shaw reported: "I don't see anything that is obviously wrong with it."
The recorder was to have been used to tape TV views of the two spacewalks. A NASA spokeswoman said another recorder could be substituted, although some data would be lost.
But Mission Control considered the problem minor and told Shaw: "It seems like Atlantis is working well."
NASA officials said the Morelos B successfully rocketed into a storage orbit 22,300 miles above Earth. The craft will be allowed to drift, unused, until it reaches its final stationary position in 1989.
Mexican officials chose to store Morelos B in orbit because launch costs for the satellite could increase to four times the amount that Mexico paid NASA for Wednesday's orbital delivery.
Astronauts Sherwood Spring and Jerry Ross will become orbiting construction workers on Friday in the first of two six-hour spacewalks. They will assemble 93 aluminum struts into a 45-foot beam rising from Atlantis' cargo bay. The spacewalkers also will attempt to build an inverted pyramid structure from six 12-foot-long bars.
The first shuttle launch in California has been delayed until at least mid-July, 1986. Page 34.