Drucella Andersen Headquarters, Washington, D.C. June 9, 1992 (Phone: 202/453-8613) H.

Keith Henry Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va. (Phone: 804/864-6120) Jim Sahli Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. (Phone: 205-544-0034) RELEASE: 92-84 NASA UNDERWATER TESTS TO SIMULATE SPACE ANTENNA ASSEMBLY NASA engineers are preparing to do the first assembly of a large-scale, parabolic (double-curve) antenna in a huge water tank whose buoyancy lets researchers simulate working in the microgravity environment of space. Some future space antennas will be too big to fit inside a space vehicle, so they will have to be assembled in Earth orbit from smaller panels attached to a supporting framework. This month's tests in the Neutral Buoyancy Simulator at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., will help establish assembly times for such antennas, evaluate work procedures and task coordination and check the compatibility of the hardware itself. The 50-foot dish to be used in the underwater study mimics the primary reflector of a new type of Earth-observation instrument. The dish surface is divided into 37 six-sided segments that will be mounted on a 315-piece support structure.

The pieces fit together to make a honeycomb-like surface pattern. On an orbiting satellite, the segments would form a precise reflector that could pick up electromagnetic energy radiated from Earth and distribute it to various sensors. The larger the dish surface, the more accurate the measurements become. NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton,Va., leads the effort. - more -2The underwater tests will include construction of the reflector support structure, attachment of seven reflector panels each about 7 feet in diameter and the removal and reconnection of a panel to simulate repair activities. Space-suited engineers from Langley will play the role of astronauts working in Earth orbit. They will erect the truss structure from individual stick-like members by manually joining them with Langley-designed and developed quick-connect joints similar to hardware tested on the recent STS-49 Space Shuttle mission. During the simulation, one "astronaut" will remove the truss members and joints from canisters, while the other assembles the pieces into the truss. After part of the truss has been built, the test subjects will reorient their foot restraints and attach a series of reflector segments. The mockup will be assembled on a fixture anchored to the bottom of the water tank. The fixture will support and move the truss during its construction and position the engineers as they move the footpads. Researchers estimate that it will take about 3 hours to build the reflector mockup. The experience gained during this test will lead to refinements in precision reflector hardware being developed at Langley Research Center. NASA also is working on ways to create large space antennas using deployable structures, as well as by robotic and robot-assisted assembly. Scientists will use precision reflectors to study the structure and origin of the universe and to improve understanding of environmental and climatic changes occurring

on Earth. - end EDITORS NOTE: A 3/4" video clip (4:30 running time) is available to media representatives by calling 202/453-8594. Still photos to illustrate the release also are available, 202/453-8375. COLOR: 92-HC-349 92-HC-350 B&W: 92-H-395 through -398