Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #7

Frontier Status Report #7

July 16, 1996

Dale M. Gray

Another busy week on the frontier. Most notable news includes several launches both at home and abroad, several set-backs, a new endurance record, advances in technology (both governmental and market driven), exploration of the space wilderness and the emergence of a new rush to make money from space resources.

The oft-delayed launch of a Delta 2 with a NAVSTAR GPS II-26 satellite finally occurred on July 14 at 8:50 EST. Having weathered both technical and storm related delays, the rocket performed flawlessly to place its payload in orbit from Launchpad 17A. A kick-motor will later place the satellite in a circular nearly 11,000 mile orbit. The next American launch from Florida is a July 25 launch of an Atlas rocket carrying a GE-1 Americom communications satellite (Justin Ray, FLATODAY).

The switch from an environmentally damaging glue to a water-based glue in the Shuttle's SRBs has had far-reaching effects. Analysis of the SRBS from the first launch using the new glue showed hot gases migrated past the J-joints on all segments of the boosters. While this did not create a safety problem for the mission, the use of the glue has been stopped until the problem is completely understood. As a result the July 31 shuttle mission to MIR has been postponed until September as the Atlantis is re-outfitted with boosters using the prior glue. This glue, while environmentally undesirable, has a record of 53 successful launches. Shannon Lucid, who has just become the longest orbiting American (116 days and counting to 187 days) will continue her sojourn on MIR until Atlantis can launch with its new SRBs. The American record for time in space is now held by a 53 year old mother of three. Her return on board Atlantis is slated for September 25. The Russian cosmonauts Yuri Onufrienko and Yuri Usachev have also had to delay in their return to earth - - now scheduled for August 30 (FLATODAY; AW&ST).

Delta Graham's test flight at the White Sands Missile Range scheduled for July 12 was postponed due to lack of winds. While rockets were grounded in Florida due to excess of winds, the experimental craft launch site did not have the slight breeze necessary to prevent build up of potentially explosive hydrogen near the base of the craft. Last year the craft (then known as the Delta Clipper) experienced such an explosion upon launch, but was able to land safely. The test flight will be scheduled when flight time on the missile range becomes available. The flight will test the new auxiliary propulsion system (APS) which utilizes hydrogen from the main fuel tank to control the craft's roll attitude.

A new space-based frontier with a potential for income in the billions of dollars is rapidly developing. In 1994 Bill Clinton authorized the sale of satellite imagery of 1 meter resolution by private companies. The current leader in the frontier rush is Space Imaging Inc., a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Raytheon's E-Systems. The company is headed by ex-NRO chief Jeffrey K. Harris. The company is based in Thorton, Colorado. Three other companies are competing for a share of the market: EarthWatch Inc.; Orbital Imaging Inc., and GDE Systems. However, Space Imaging is set to launch its first 2,000 pound satellite in December 1997 well ahead of the 1998 planned launch of the first EarthWatch satellite (AW&ST).

Arianespace has resumed its schedule of commercial launches from the Europe's Space Port in Kourou, French Guiana. On July 9 the ESA successfully ARABSAT IIA (5,770 lbs) and Turksat IC (3843 pounds) into orbit. The two satellites were launched on an Ariane 44L which is equipped with four liquid-propellant strap-on boosters. Both satellites were built by Alcatel Espace. The next Ariane 4 launch will be on August 7. Ariane has a back log of 42 satellites to launch (FLATODAY).

Japan continues its market-driven development of the H-2. "The redesign includes a new Mitsubishi LE-7 first-stage motor to cut weight and production costs, shorter and lighter solid-rocket booster motors from Nissan and introduction of new liquid propellant strap-ons that can be used in combination with the SRBs (AW&ST June 24, p. 52)". These changes are necessary because the H-2 is currently about twice as expensive as its competitors the Arianne 4 and Atlas 2. However, Hughes Space and Communications is expected to sign a $910 million contract with the Japan Rocket Systems in August as part of their strategy to assure delivery of satellites from nearly every available launch system. They are contracting for at least 10 H-2As when they become available (AW&ST).

Galileo's exploration of the Jovian wilderness continues with the release of photos from the Ganymede fly-by. Initial findings revealed that the moon was more rugged than anticipated and may actually have a weak magnetic field. Currently about three images a day are being transferred from the craft. Galileo will fly-by Ganymede again in September for a gravity boost to set-up its encounter with Europa on November 6 (AW&ST).

Wilderness Exploration of Saturn has advanced a step with the delivery of the first flight model of the Radio Frequency Instrument Subsystem (RFIS) from Italy's Alenia Spazio to JPL. This antenna will be placed in the Cassini spacecraft, the last of the big science planetary missions. The propulsion system for the 11 year mission which has been developed by a joint effort between JPL and LockMart will be delivered in August. The engine will have to operate twice as long as the Galileo mission and is the largest of its type ever built. The Cassini mission is slated to be launched from a Titan 4-Centaur in October of 1997 (AW&ST).

In addition to the developments in the Cassini propulsion system, two other propulsion systems were in the news. Testing for a new ion engine and contracting for an air-breathing rocket system.

A prototype ion engine began a year-long test on April 30 at a JPL lab in Pasadena, California. The engine is capable of ejecting material (in this case electrically charged Xenon) at 70,000 mph. The Shuttle's engines by comparison throw out material at 10,000 mph. The nearly 12 inch diameter engine will be powered in space by 2,000 watt solar panels and produce only 2 hundredths of a pound of thrust as compared to the millions of pounds of thrust produced by traditional rocket engines. The engine's greatest strength, however, is not raw power, but efficiency of operation. The first planned use of the engine is the Deep Space-1 probe to comet West-Kohoutek-Ikemura and to the asteroid McAuliffe. After the probe is placed in space by a traditional launch system, the ion engine will be able to accelerate craft up to 22,000 mph through continuous operation. Of the 176 pounds of propellant placed on board, the craft is estimated to only need 99 pounds to complete its mission (FLATODAY).

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL, has selected five teams to develop technologies for air-breathing rocket engines. These engines would consume atmospheric oxygen for the first phase of flight, switching to cryogenic oxygen as flight rises above the atmosphere. The contracts for the first phase of this program are worth an estimated $20 million. A proof of concept flight may occur as early as the year 2000. A small-scale integrated system flight is to follow in 2002 and a full-scale flight in 2004. The selected organizations are Gen Corp Aerojet; Kaiser Marquardt; Pennsylvania State University; Rockwell Aerospace/ Rocketdyne; and United Technologies/Pratt and Whitney (FLATODAY).

The space population remains at two Russian and 1 American sojourners onboard MIR.

Your comments are welcomed.


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