Inside the Spacecraft Assembly and Encapsulation Facility-2 (SAEF-2) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, solar panels were attached to the Magellan spacecraft on Feb. 3, 1989. Credits: NASA
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NASA's Magellan spacecraft mission to Venus, scheduled for launch on the space shuttle in April 1989, has completed critical test of the interface between the spacecraft and the radar that will map the cloud-covered Venusian surface.

As result of the successful tests, Magellan's prospects for meeting the scheduled launch aboard space shuttle Atlantis are excellent, according to project manager John Gerpheide of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

The radar, which consists of an integrated synthetic aperture radar and an altimeter, was shipped on schedule in mid-June by its developer, Hughes Aircraft Co., in El Segundo, Calif., for tests at Martin Marietta Corporation in Denver, Colo., where the spacecraft is being assembled.

The radar was delivered back to Hughes last month for final flight qualification tests to be conducted this fall. It will be sent to Martin Marietta early next year for final spacecraft integration and testing prior to shipment of the spacecraft to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in November 1988. There, the spacecraft will be integrated with an inertial upper-stage (IUS) and be placed in the payload bay of the Atlantis.

Venus is covered by dense atmosphere of sulfuric acid and carbon dioxide that hide its surface from view. The microwave radar, however, will penetrate the cloud cover to produce detailed, photograph-like images of the planet's surface.

Recent studies have indicated that Venus, where the average surface temperature is 470 degrees Celsius (900 degrees Fahrenheit), may have once had oceans of water. Topographical scars left by evaporated rivers and oceans, if they once existed on Venus, will be revealed by images returned by Magellan.

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