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Shuttle Atlantis releases tiny satellite before returning to Earth

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IN PICTURES: Final Shuttle mission

"Outstanding, Rex, we applaud you," spacecraft communicator Barry Wilmore said amid cheers from Mission Control.

The four-astronaut crew of Atlantis' STS-135 mission released the PicoSat into orbit via a spring ejection canister at 3:54 a.m. EDT (0754) Wednesday. The mini spacecraft is covered with solar panels to test new solar cell technology.

"Atlantis, Houston, Congratulations on the 180th successful deployment of a payload from the shuttle's payload bay," Wilmore said.

"We copy that, Houston," Atlantis' commander Chris Ferguson replied. "We'll call the deployment time MET [Mission Elapsed Time] 11 days 16:20."

PicoSat, officially named the Pico-Satellite Solar Cell test bed, is a small rectangular box about 5 inches by 5 inches by 10 inches, and weighs only 8 pounds (3.7 kg). It has its own solid rocket booster propulsion systems, communications capabilities, a GPS unit and solar cells for gathering energy.

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