CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The launch of a "Star Wars" space mission in September was delayed because of concerns that one of the two payloads might collide with an unmanned Soviet space station, an industry magazine reported Monday.
Aviation Week & Space Technology said Soviet ground controllers changed the course of the Salyut 7 station just hours before a Delta rocket was to lift off from Cape Canaveral on Sept. 5. The Delta rocket carried two satellites that were to destroy each other to test missile intercept techniques for the Strategic Defense Initiative.
"Had the Delta launch proceeded on its original schedule--and had the two payloads missed their intercept--there was a small chance one of the SDI spacecraft could have collided with the Soviet space station," said the magazine, citing sources.
The unexpected Salyut 7 maneuver "forced the U.S. to undertake an extensive space collision avoidance analysis," said the magazine, quoting sources. "The results of the time-consuming computer run did not become available until the Delta countdown was well under way. The chance of a collision, while small, violated SDI safety guidelines and forced a time-critical decision to abandon the original launch window and use a less desirable launch opportunity only one minute in duration."
The rocket lifted off later in the day and the two satellites destroyed one another in a successful intercept after circling the globe for four hours.
Aviation Week said the Soviets apparently were not trying to influence the SDI test but were elevating Salyut 7, unmanned at the time, into a higher storage orbit.