CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA.
WITH a $94 million ``Star Wars'' satellite looking on, the shuttle Discovery wrapped up a series of spectacular rocket firings Thursday in an unprecedented experiment to learn how to spot enemy rockets in space. Trailing the SPAS-2 satellite by just 1.5 miles, the shuttle crew fired Discovery's twin braking rockets twice before dawn as instruments aboard the nearby spacecraft recorded infrared, visible light and ultraviolet radiation from the fiery plumes.
Discovery's seven-man crew planned to release four rocket-related chemicals into space later in the day and to launch the second in a series of three small satellites built to spew different rocket fuels into space.
Instruments aboard SPAS-2 were designed to study the rocket firings and chemical releases as part of the most ambitious space-based Strategic Defense Initiative research project ever attempted. The goal of the 40th shuttle mission is to gather data about how rocket exhaust plumes appear against a variety of space backdrops so future SDI battlestars can locate, track and destroy incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles.