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STS 51-J Payload "Atlantis Maiden Flight"


Space Shuttle Atlantis made its Maiden Flight on Oct. 3, 1985 carrying a classified Department of Defense payload managed by the Air Force. This payload was kept secret but subsequently it was revealed that the payload was a pair of Defense Satellite Communications Systems (DSCS-III) satellites carried on a single IUS.

In 1981 the Air Force did mention that will launch DSCS-III satellites once the Shuttle is operational. This payload became declassified on Oct.2000 and a photo of this payload was posted in website. Other sources became available including Dennis Jenkins Space Shuttle book showing 2 photos, one in color and another in black and white.

While searching for reference material for this payload, I overlooked one of my reference books, the Space Shuttle Operator's Manual (Revised Edition Feb.1988). For my surprise on section "Extending Shuttle's Reach 3.7" there is a small graphic that shows the IUS carrying a pair of satellites. Taking a closer look at these satellites, I was amazed to recognize these as the DSCS-III pair that flew on this mission.

This payload was designed and built based on Dennis Jenkins photos and the graphic.

The rest of the payload is still classified. No information is available regarding secondary payloads, nor if any GAS containers flew on this mission. This payload is considered incomplete until the whole payload is unveiled in the future.







DSCS-III / IUS (bays 5 through 12
Forward payload frame (bay 9)
Aft payload frame (bay 12)
KU-Band Antenna (bay 1 starboard)
Remote Manipulator Arm: Port side
Download Files:
Orbiter file
atlamodif1.pdf ( 1.16 mb)
sts51Jpld.pdf ( 1.61 mb)


STS 51-J Payload Manual (268 kb)




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