Long Duration Exposure Facility

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(Redirected from LDEF)
Mission Statistics
Shuttle:Challenger and Columbia
Launch Pad: 39-A
Launch:April 6, 1984, 8:58:00 a.m. EST STS-41-C
Deployment:April 7, 1984
Retrieval:January 12, 1990, 10:16 a.m. EST
Landing:January 20, 1990, 1:35:37 a.m. PST, Edwards Air Force Base, STS-32
Deployed Duration:2076 days (5 years, 8 months, 1 week)
Orbit Altitude:313 to 179 nautical miles
Orbit Inclination: 28.5 degrees
Miles Traveled:741,928,999 nautical miles
LDEF photo

LDEF, shortly before deployment, flies on Challenger 's RMS arm over the Florida peninsula.

NASA's Long Duration Exposure Facility, a school-bus sized cylindrical space experiment rack, exposed various material samples to outer space for about 5.7 years, completing 32,422 earth orbits.

The STS-41-C crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger deployed LDEF April 7, 1984. Columbia retrieved LDEF on mission STS-32, January 12, 1990.


Researchers recognized the potential of the planned Space Shuttle to deliver a payload to space, leave it there, and on a separate mission, retrieve the payload and return it to earth for measurements. The project was approved in 1974.

Engineers imagined that the first mission would last most of a year, and that several long-duration exposure missions would use the same frame. The frame was actually used for only one 5.7-year mission.

Fifty-seven science and technology experiments involving government and university investigators from the United States, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom flew on the LDEF mission. These experiments, a number of which include additional subexperiments examined

LDEF was built at NASA Langley Research Center.


At LDEF's launch, retrieval was scheduled for March 19, 1985, eleven months after deployment. Schedules slipped, postponing the retrieval mission until the Shuttle Columbia launched January 9, 1990 and on January 12, Columbia successfully captured LDEF with its extended RMS arm. Columbia approached LDEF in such a way as to minimize possible contamination to LDEF from thruster exhaust. While LDEF was still attached to the RMS arm, an extensive 4.5 hour photo survey was performed that included photographs of each individual experiment tray, as well as larger areas.

Columbia landed at Edwards Air Force Base on January 20, 1990. Through the orbiter window, LDEF Project staff viewed and took photographs of LDEF at Edwards. With LDEF still in its bay, Columbia was ferried back to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on January 26. Special efforts were taken to ensure protection against contamination of the payload bay during the ferry flight. On January 30-31, LDEF was removed from Columbia's payload bay in KSC's Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF), placed in a special payload canister, and transported to the Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building. On February 1, 1990, LDEF was transported in the LDEF Assembly and Transportation System (LATS) to the Spacecraft Assembly and Encapsulation Facility - 2 (SAEF-2), where the LDEF Project team led deintegration activities.

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