Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #4

Frontier Status Report #4

June 25, 1996

Dale M. Gray

This had been a relatively quiet week on the frontier. While unspectacular, some movement has been made in the technical, legislative and charisma climates. Other events continue to display hallmarks of an active frontier.

In Russia the Boris Yeltsin is slowly outpacing his communist rival in the polls. Even though these polls are not known for their great accuracy, it now looks like the Russians will retain their present president. This will remove yet another barrier for the vital Russian contributions to the International Space Station.

The shuttle Columbia launched on June 20th despite concerns about possible missing screws on equipment. The mission carries an international compliment of crew (both French and Canadian astronauts) and the ESA Spacelab. With additional oxygen and hydrogen supplies for power, the mission is poised to stay in orbit a record 17 days. Experiments conducted during the course of the mission will be studied by scientists in 11 countries. The investigations will study such wide ranging subjects as tree growth, fish development, space sickness, loss of muscle in space, changes in mental information processing in space, pulmonary studies and microgravity material processing (FLATODAY).

Several aspects of the mission contribute to the technical and legislative foundations of the frontier. The Columbia launch was the second to use the new advanced Pratt & Whitney oxygen turbopumps on all three Rocketdyne main engines. The mission studies will provide additional technical understanding of the human response to microgravity. The mission is set to break the previous record for endurance and stay in orbit for 17 days. Less well known are experiments using the vernier reboost capability to increase the orbit. This will be used to save fuel on the reboost of the Hubble Telescope after its upcoming repair. A new method of restarting the Water Spray Boiler is being verified which will save a critical 120 pounds of launch weight. This is part of a program of weight savings aimed at giving the shuttle the lift capability for the heavier elements of the space station. Finally, this was the first launch of the new combined LockMart - Rockwell (United Space Alliance) effort to privatize the shuttle launch systems (FLATODAY, AW&ST).

The mission has also provided an interesting benchmark for the charisma of the frontier. One of the most ambitious science missions and longest missions ever, yet the launch and mission have been almost undetectable in the popular media. While many decry the lack of coverage as a lack of interest, it can also be viewed as a positive sign. Whether it is true technically or not, the public and the media now perceive human access to space via the shuttle to be routine. To understand the importance of this perception, one need examine public attitudes toward flight in the wake of the Hindenberg and as airplane flight became increasingly safe and routine. A new camera mounted in the cockpit will record the cabin during both launch and landing. Footage from this camera will provide an exiting new experience for the viewing public.

Other events that may also effect the frontier.

In Russia a Soyuz-U booster rocket carrying a Kosmos satellite was launched on June 20th. The satellite failed to reach orbit, falling to earth somewhere in Russia. The satellite launching infrastructure that Russia inherited from the USSR has been plagued by lack of funds while trying to become a major player in the increasingly lucrative LEO frontier. While such a failure might be seen as helping to increase the US and ESA launch business, the present glut of satellites waiting for rides is less well served (FLATODAY).

Shannon Lucid on Mir has been busy this week working on the Queens University Experiment in Liquid Diffusion (QUELD). "QUELD is a fixed furnace facility which provides scientists with a way of measuring the diffusion coefficients in some metallic binary systems as well as glasses and semiconductor materials". Lucid also conducted a limited conference on CompuServe on Tuesday June 25. She has been in orbit 95 days with a little over a month left on her tour of duty (FLATODAY).

Investigations on the Ariane 5 failure have concentrated on the connection between the Sextant Avionique's laser gyroscopes and the aab-Ericsson on-board computers. "it appeared initial data generated by the inertial units may have been accurate. But the electronic interface where that data is passed to the computers played a crucial role in the accident... The strapdown inertial reference system comprises an inertial measurement unit using three 33-cm. (8.3 in.) ring laser gyros and three precision accelerometers and a data processing unit. Sextant's redundant system is feeding onboard computers with data such as acceleration, angular velocity, direction and attitude." It has also been revealed that two of the four satellites on-board at the time of the failure have been found relatively intact in a nearby swamp (AW&ST; Flatoday).

Money is being generated in large quantities on the frontier. As evidence, Asiasat recently went public "Some 121 million shares had been sold in the initial offering, raising the equivalent of $313 million. Some 16 million shares traded in Hong Kong the first day, closing almost 25% higher than the issue price. AsiaSat owns and operates two satellites and expects to launch a third late next year. It plans to launch a fourth in 1999, near the end of its first satellite's operational life." (AS&ST).

Intelsat 9, which was launched last week on an Ariane 4 has been checked out after the deployment of its antennas. The satellite is scheduled to go on line in August (AW&ST).

The phase one flight tests of the Japanese Alflex automatic landing vehicle has been postponed to June 28 due to problems with the differential Global Positioning System (DGPS). The 20-ft. Alflex unmanned glider is part of the National Space Development Agency of Japan's Hope mini-shuttle development program. Apparently the signals generated at the Woomera Airfield in South Australia were bouncing off of a building and giving false readings. (AW&ST).

LockMart has extended their control of the space frontier by buying out Hughes Satellite's interest in the Eosat earth observation joint venture. "Eosat operates the Landsat 4 and 5 spacecraft and has exclusive rights to market their data. This venture also receives and distributes data from the European ERS-1 and ERS-2 and Japanese JRS remote sensing satellites" (AW&ST)

Please feel free to comment on these developments, correct errors and add additional developments of the week. Expression of emotional reactions to the news and my comments is also sought (both positive and negative). Those unsure of my frontier model criteria may privately e-mail me for an explanation that has previously appeared in this forum.


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