The Solar Maximum Missionsatellite (or SolarMax) was designed to investigate Solar phenomena, particularly solar flares. It was launched on February 14, 1980. The SMM was the first satellite based on the Multimission Modular Spacecraft bus manufactured by Fairchild Industries, a platform which was later used for Landsats 4 and 5 as well as the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite.
In November 1980, the second of four fuses in SMM's attitude control system failed, causing it to rely on its magnetorquers in order to maintain attitude. In this mode, only three of the seven instruments onboard were usable, as the others required the satellite to be accurately pointed at the Sun. The use of the satellite's magnetorquers prevented the satellite from being used in a stable position and caused it to "wobble" around its nominally sun-pointed attitude.
The first orbiting, unmanned satellite to be repaired in space, SMM was notable in that its useful life compared with similar spacecraft was significantly increased by the direct intervention of a manned space mission. During STS-41-C in 1984, the Space Shuttle Challenger rendezvoused with the SMM, astronauts James van Hoften and George Nelson attempted to use the Manned Maneuvering Unit to capture the satellite and to bring it into the orbiter's payload bay for repairs and servicing. The plan was to use an astronaut-piloted Maneuvering Unit to grapple the satellite with the Trunion Pin Attachment Device (TPAD) mounted between the hand controllers of the Maneuvering Unit, null its rotation rates, and allow the Shuttle to bring it into the Shuttle's payload bay for stowage. Three attempts to grapple the satellite using the TPAD failed. The TPAD jaws could not lock onto Solar Max because of an obstructing grommet on the satellite not included in the blueprints for the satellite. This led to an improvised plan which nearly ended the satellite's mission. The improvisation had the astronaut use his hands to grab hold of a solar array and null the rotation by a push from the Maneuvering Unit's thrusters. Instead, this attempt induced higher rates and in multiple axes; the satellite was tumbling out of control and quickly losing battery life. SMM Operations Control Center engineers shut down all non-essential satellite subsystems and with a bit of luck were able to recover the satellite minutes before total failure. The ground support engineers then stabilized the satellite and nulled its rotation rates for capture with the Shuttle's robotic arm. This proved to be a much better plan. The satellite had been fitted with one of the arm's "grapple fixtures" so that the robotic arm was able to capture and maneuver it into the shuttle's payload bay for repairs. During the mission, the SMM's entire attitude control system module and the electronics module for the coronagraph/polarimeter instrument were replaced, and a gas cover was installed over the X-ray polychromator.Their successful work added five more years to the lifespan of the satellite. The mission was depicted in the 1985 IMAX movie The Dream Is Alive.
A coronal transient as seen by the SMM on May 5, 1980
Significantly, the SMM's ACRIM instrument package showed that contrary to expectations, the Sun is actually brighter during the sunspot cycle maximum (when the greatest number of dark 'sunspots' appear). This is because sunspots are surrounded by bright features called faculae, which more than cancel the darkening effect of the sunspot.
The major scientific findings from the SMM are presented in several review articles in a monograph.
^Suzuki, Masaharu (11 February 1999). "TOPEX/Poseidon - Description of Mission". University of Texas. Retrieved 9 July 2013. The satellite bus was taken from the Multimission Modular Spacecraft (MMS), which has been proven on previous MMS-based missions: the Solar Maximum Mission and Landsat 4 and 5.
^"STS-41-C Press Kit"(PDF). NASA. Retrieved 9 July 2013. All four of those instruments require pointing accuracy from the spacecraft and could not function effectively with the spacecraft spinning through space with its longitudinal axis pointed toward the sun, as it has since the attitude control system failure.
^"STS-41-C Press Kit"(PDF). NASA. Retrieved 9 July 2013. Repairs to be made during the mission include replacing the attitude control system module, replacing the main electronics box on the Polarimeter/Polarimeter, and placing a cover over the gas vent of the X-Ray Polychrometer.
^Strong KT; Saba JLR; Haisch BM; Schmelz JT, eds. (1999). The many faces of the sun : a summary of the results from NASA's Solar Maximum Mission. New York: Springer. Bibcode:1999mfs..conf.....S.
Payloads are separated by bullets ( · ), launches by pipes ( | ). Manned flights are indicated in bold text. Uncatalogued launch failures are listed in italics. Payloads deployed from other spacecraft are denoted in (brackets).