The crew of space shuttle Atlantis were this morning roused by a message from employees of Kennedy Space Center, preceded by a snippet of Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man.
The Kennedy personnel took to the tarmac to shout: "Three... two... one... Good morning, Atlantis! Kennedy salutes you. See you back at wheels stop!"
On board Atlantis, Commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Doug Hurley, and mission specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim have stowed kit, and tested the shuttle's control surfaces and thrusters ahead of tomorrow's return to Kennedy.
Following those standard pre-landing procedures, they deployed the Pico-Satellite Solar Cell (PSSC 2) tech demonstration satellite from the shuttle's cargo bay. The diminutive 5" x 5" x 10" (12.7 x 12.7 x 25.4cm) nanosat is, according to page 100 of NASA's STS-135 mission press pack (PDF), packing two experiments.
NASA explains: "First, the Miniature Tracking Vehicle (MTV) experiment goal is to demonstrate the capability of a nano-satellite to serve as an orbiting reference for ground tracking systems while demonstrating 3-axis attitude control; solid rocket propulsion for orbit modification; adaptive communications; and active solar cell performance monitoring in a nanosatellite platform.
"The second experiment, Compact Total Electron Content Sensor (CTECS), will demonstrate a CubeSat form factor space weather sensor with the capability to detect ionospheric density. It uses a modified commercial GPS receiver to detect differences in radio signals generated by occulting GPS satellites."
NASA sombrely notes that PSSC 2 will be "the last satellite ever deployed by the Space Shuttle Program".
NASA has everything you need to know about the final flight of Atlantis right here. ®