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The piece of cloth that nearly sank an Air Force satellite

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The AEHF-1 US Air Force satellite, which malfunctioned a day after launch and was ultimately rescued, apparently failed because of a small piece of cloth left in a fuel line.

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Over a year after the initial malfunction and near loss of a $2 billion US Air Force satellite, two pieces — one from Wired and one from The Diplomat — explore how the crisis occurred and what it means for space program contractors. A day after the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite (AEHF-1) was launched, its engines malfunctioned — a problem that has now been tied to a fuel line clogged by a "small piece of cloth" left by a Lockheed Martin manufacturer.

The satellite was ultimately saved in a process using hundreds of tiny maneuvers on its small thrusters, a coup that Wired celebrates. The Diplomat, however, warns that dangerous gaps still exist in the US space program. Regardless of the satellite failure's larger implications, it doesn't seem to have affected Lockheed Martin's bottom line: they're still launching two more AEHF satellites this year.