Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #6

Frontier Status Report #6

July 10, 1996

Dale M. Gray

Overcoming adversity seems to be the theme for much of the activity on the frontier this week. China has finally successfully launched a commercial satellite from one of their Long March Rockets, ESA has begun talks of replacing the cluster destroyed in the Ariane 5. The recent Pegasus XL launch appears to be a success. The shuttle lands after a record breaking 16 days, 22 hours. However, near-term flights from Florida are delayed from weather and bad glue. International and financial participation in the frontier continues to accelerate.

On July 3, China launched a Long March 3 from Xichang launch facility in southwestern China. It carried a 1,600 pound Apstar 1A, a Hughes HS 376 communications satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit. This launch is a much needed success for a program with two recent failures, one of which resulted in fatalities on the ground (Flatoday, AW&ST).

The ESA has begun to rebuilt its Cluster science program that was dealt a hard blow by the destruction of its satellites in the recent Ariane 5 failure. "The constellation of Cluster satellites was designed to study the stream of plasma in the solar wind and its interaction with the Earth's magnetosphere." The ESA is now studying several options. These include building duplicate replacement craft essentially from available spare parts. However, the $400 million price tag is prohibitive. Another alternative is to build new three mini-sats to carry sub-sets of the cluster instruments. The ESA is looking to launch in spring or summer of next year (AW&ST).

Japan's space program is also in the news. Their new M-5 program has been delayed from a debut in September to early next year by a problem with its attitude control system. "The 100-ft., three-stage M-5 is the largest all-solid propellant booster in Japan and is to replace the M-3S-2 for launching its planetary and science satellites" (AW&ST).

As Japan's launch systems mature, they have come to the attention of Hughes Satellite. They are reportedly now negotiating a deal to send more than 10 Hughes satellites up on the new H2-A rockets (AW&ST). Without a launch system of their own, it makes sense that Hughes would seek a wide range of launch systems, thereby assuring access to space even if one or more systems are temporarily grounded.

Hughes may be getting some competition from Matra Marconi Space of Italy. This company is marketing a geostationary comsat system designed to cover southern/eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East. This system is based upon the new Eurostar 3000's which can generate up to 16 kw. If the company can find enough investors, the system is scheduled to come on line in 1999 (AW&ST). This development is similar to the stock issues for paper railroads in the American west. Examples of successful railroads were held up to potential investors and then pitches would be made to finance plans to connect A to B by rail. Few of these railroads were constructed, fewer returned money to investors. A very small number returned a lot of money, thereby continuing the cycle.

Last week's successful launch of the 650 pound Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer Earth Probe (TOMS-EP) probe on a Pegasus XL has been confirmed with the solar arrays deployed and the craft functioning. During the next three weeks, a series of burns will circularize the orbit at 310 miles. The probe will work in conjunction with a sister ship to be launched in August on the Japanese Advanced Earth Observation Satellite (ADEOS) (Flatoday; AW&ST).

Following last week's launch of a military payload on a Titan 4, preparations are now being made for the first 1997 launch of the system. This will be the first Titan 4B equipped with a modernized core and upgraded solid rocket motors (AW&ST.

The cause of Russia's June 20 failure of the SL-4 launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome has not been found. The SL-4 was carrying a military imaging reconnaissance satellite into polar orbit. While political fingers are pointing at a Ukrainian-built guidance system, no official cause has been determined. This was the second failure of the system this year - each from different physical problems. The system previously had a very high success rate. However, it becomes increasingly apparent that quality control has become a problem in the cash poor Russian bureaucratic environment. The failure has ramifications for resupply of MIR, for the ISS launch schedule and for the Russian military intelligence community that lost a sophisticated satellite (AW&ST).

As Russian launch technology begins to decay, the political environment of the frontier has stabilized with Boris Yeltsin winning the Russian election. While the Russian contribution to the ISS is plagued with problems, a change of elected leadership will no longer hang over the program (NPR).

In the USA, the governmental launch baseline for the frontier may soon be raised by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). As reported previously, the NRO continues on its course of reducing the size of its observation platforms by utilizing constellations of less capable satellites. NRO is currently working to complete a new generation of larger - more capable satellites that range from 15 tons in LEO to 5 tons in GEO. In one projection of the next generation, the new satellites would be 20 - 25 percent lighter and 40 percent less capable. It is hoped that long-term savings would result from the deployment of a constellation of such craft (AW&ST).

Details of the X-33 to be built by LockMart's skunkworks are now becoming available. These include information on the development history of the much heralded Aerospike engines, thermal protection system and the lifting body. The experimental craft, dubbed VentureStar, also features the use of a graphite composite frame, testing of a graphite-epoxy liquid oxygen tank, and utilization of the landing gear from an F-15E fighter. Additional information can be obtained from the Aviation Week and Space Technology article by Michael Dornheim (AW&ST).

LockMart along with Ball Aerospace have recently been given the contract for the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF). This is part of NASA's Great Observatories program. The program originated as a shuttle mounted telescope that at one time in development was so large that only a Titan 4 could launch it. Recent material science advances have lowered the weight of the craft so that it will be able to be launched in a solar orbit trailing earth by a Delta rocket. The solar orbit will allow passive cooling of the telescope so that it will be able to operate a few degrees above absolute zero.

While the shuttle Columbia recently completed a successful 16 day 22 hour mission that broke the endurance record, there is very real concern that the next mission will be delayed. Two factors are at work, hurricane Bertha and new problems with the O-rings. Examination of Columbia's SRBs show hot gases worked their way through a J-joints on several segments and reached a thermal barrier O-ring, but did not damage it. The gases did not reach the critical O-ring that failed on the Challenger. The cause of the problem appears to be a change in a glue used during assembly. This was the first mission in which new water based glue replaced an environmentally damaging glue that had previously been used successfully. While NASA retains a small amount of the old glue, the problem may delay the next shuttle flight to Mir. Any delays to the Atlantis launch would extend Shannon Lucid's stay aboard MIR.

Hurricane Bertha is expected to reach 40 knots by Thursday which would require NASA to roll Atlantis back to the VAB and will delay the launch of a Delta 2 carrying a GPS satellite. This already delayed rocket will be left on the pad. It might be remembered that the last time a Delta rocket was left on the pad during a storm, it was unable to lift the first KoreaSat into the proper orbit -- one of the strap-on booster failed to drop away. Investigations found that storm damage was the cause of the problem. This will be a launch to watch carefully to see if the system has become more robust from the previous lesson (FLATODAY).

The population of the frontier has dropped to three sojourners: two Russians and one American. The drop in population due to the 7 astronauts in Columbia returning to civilization.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1996

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