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TOP-SECRET U.S. SATELLITE MAY BE TUMBLING IN ORBIT

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A top-secret spy satellite carried into space aboard the shuttle Columbia in August malfunctioned shortly after it was released from the spaceplane and may be tumbling in orbit, an aerospace magazine reported Friday.

Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine reported in its Oct. 9 issue that sources said "the problems with the reconnaissance spacecraft have been corrected.""A second intelligence community source agreed that the payload is functioning normally," the magazine said.

But the health of the costly satellite, reportedly an advanced imaging reconnaissance spy craft, remains uncertain because of reports from amateur astronomers and others that indicate the spacecraft is tumbling in space.

Time-exposure photographs of the satellite taken from the ground for Aviation Week show a periodic brightening and dimming that is "characteristic of a payload rotating out of control and reflecting the sun as it tumbles," the magazine said.

"Astronomers in seven countries have been observing the apparent tumbling motion since mid-August," according to Aviation Week.

Columbia, with five astronauts on board, was launched Aug. 8 on a classified military mission. The goal of the flight was the deployment of the reconnaissance satellite, but, as usual with such missions, neither NASA nor the Air Force would comment on the nature of the payload or its health.