Frontier Status Report #11
Frontier Status Report #11
August 12, 1996
Dale M. Gray
In days of old rumors of gold turned men's eyes toward the mountains, this past week rumors of life on Mars have turned our eyes to the skies. Yet here on Earth the frontier progresses with the signing of billion dollar satellite deals, launches, launch delays, and even an unheralded head-on collision in orbit. The shuttle, MIR and new X programs are also in the news.
In case you have been living in a cave, researchers recently announced that they have found evidence of life on Mars. The data comes from a meteorite, Allan Hills 84001, found in 1984 in Antarctica which was determined to be of Martian origin when its composition was compared to information provided by the Viking probes of the 1970s. While the rock appears to be 4.5 billion-years-old, approximately the same age as Mars itself, much younger cracks within the rock contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) typically formed as by-products of bacteria or in planetary formation. In a stroke of good timing, NASA had previously scheduled Mars Pathfinder and Mars Global Observer spacecraft to be launched this year. The Pathfinder will land in an area that appears to have had water in the past and would be a good bet for finding additional evidence of life. Five additional Mars missions are presently planned by the US, two by the Russians and one by the Japanese (FLATODAY, SPACEF, AW&ST, NPR, NBC, CNN, AP, . . .).
It might be remembered that many portions of our own planet were developed by rumors of gold. An important ingredient of any frontier is the public excitement over a discovery. The actual value of the discovery ironically is of less import. Most of southern Idaho for example was settled by miner's looking for the fabled Blue Bucket mine. Expeditions didn't find the Blue Bucket, but they found other streams filled with gold (Frontier Model, Charisma factor).
The September 12 launch of the shuttle Atlantis has encountered yet another problem. The external fuel tank accidentally hit a work platform while being lifted. While the tank officially sustained "no serious damage", it is being carefully examined and a team assembled to evaluate handling techniques. The flight has previously been delayed due to Hurricane Bertha, problems with glue used in the Solid Rocket Boosters and a bad seal due to a contaminating bush bristle. The upcoming flight to MIR will bring Shannon Lucid's replacement John Blaha to the station along with additional supplies and equipment stowed in the Spacehab Double Module (FLATODAY).
The transfer of nearly 2 tons of supplies from Progress M-31 to MIR has been completed, clearing the way for the planned August 17 launch of Soyuz TM-24 for a crew rotation. However, events on earth may alter the planned launch of two Russians and a Frenchman. Rumors of a medical problem with Colonel Manakov, the crew commander, may result in a switching of crews to Korzun and Kaleri. The French researcher Claudie desHayes (pronounced day-yay) will remain on the flight. After the launch of the Soyuz and a day before its docking with MIR the Progress vehicle will undock from the station. After Soyuz leaves with cosmonauts Yuri Onufrienko and Yuri Usachevw and the French researcher, the Progress vehicle will redock and use its motors to push MIR to a higher orbit. Lucid, who is now in her 22nd week on MIR will remain on the station until she can catch a ride down on the Shuttle in late September (FLATODAY, AW&ST).
"NASA is planning a new series of X-vehicles to flight test air-breathing rocket engines instead of continuing research started on the DC-XA single-stage-to-orbit prototype, which was destroyed in a July 31 accident. Agency managers are seeking startup funding in Fiscal 1997-98 for the project -- designated X-3 -- to begin designing airframes to go around new engines that will be developed under a separate technology effort launched last month. NASA ultimately could spend $1 billion on 2-4 version of the X-37, mirroring its commitment to the single X-33 prototype Lockheed Martin was selected to build last month. NASA hopes both X-vehicles will lead to commercial space launchers that would be operated by private industry. The first X-37 would fly about two years after the X-33's scheduled 1999 flight debut (AW&ST)".
launch the Pegasus XL rocket with the FAST spacecraft on August 18. The launch was previously reported to be scheduled for August 16. The three stage rocket will be launched aloft from an airplane based out of Vandenberg Air Force Base (Justin Ray, FLATODAY).
Boeing is moving rapidly to take advantage of the expanding frontier of space. Toward that end, they have broken ground in Long Beach for support facilities for their SeaLaunch operation. Boeing, Kvaerner of Norway, RSC-Energia of Moscow and Ukraine's Yuzhnoye space organization are partners in the project. The former 15.66 acre Navy base will be upgraded to serve as an operations two vessels used to conduct commercial satellite launches from remote sites in the Pacific Ocean. Home Port construction plans include upgrading 202,000 sq. ft. of existing warehouse, office and storage space, constructing two new buildings for processing spacecraft and improving a 1,000-ft. pier (AW&ST).
In the next decade a dozen new LEO satellite constellation are planned with hundreds of small light-weight satellites. About 460 heavier satellites are slated to be boosted to geosynchronous orbit through 2016 (AW&ST Aug. 5, p. 18). Sea Launch Co. is scheduled to perform its first launch using a Ukrainian Zenit booster in mid-1998 (AW&ST July 29, p. 56). The recent purchase of Rockwell assets included an agreement with Zenit manufacturer YB Yuzhnoye to use its smaller Cyclone booster (AW&ST).
A $1-billion contract between the European Space Agency and Dornier Satellitensysteme (DSS) has been concluded for the development of the scientific payload of Envisat-1. DSS will work on the project along with 80 other companies in Europe and Canada. The Earth-observation satellite will be Europe's biggest and most expensive satellite. The 8,200-kg. (18,040-lb.) spacecraft is scheduled to be launched by an Ariane 5 in 1999 (AW&ST).
The 61st Ariane 4 launch from the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana took place on Thursday, August 8. The launch placed two satellites in orbit: the ITALSAT F2 for Telecom Italia and TELECOM 2D for France Telecom and the French Ministry of Defense's DGA arms-procurement agency. The satellites rode up on an Ariane 44L, the most powerful version of the European launcher, equipped with four liquid-propellant strap-on boosters. ITALSAT F2 is Italy's second telecommunications satellite. It is equipped with 9 Ka-band transponders, and weighed 1,990 kg (4,378 lb) at liftoff, with a design life greater than seven years. TELECOM 2D, France Telecom's seventh satellite, was built by Matra Marconi Space and Alcatel Espace in Toulouse (Southwest France). It weighed 2,260 kg (4,972 lb.) at liftoff and has a design life of more than 10 years. Positioned over the Gulf of Guinea (Atlantic Ocean), it will provide telephone links, TV program transmission, and business communications, both in France and between France and French overseas departments. Ariane now has a backlog of 42 satellites. The next Ariane launch, Flight 91, on September 10 will lift the ECHOSTAR II on an Ariane 42P booster (Bruno Tilgner, SPACEF; FLATODAY).
In late July, the French Cerise spacecraft launched in July of 1995 on an Ariane rocket collided nearly head-on with part of an Ariane rocket stage for the French Spot-1 Earth resources satellite launched Feb. 22, 1986. The 110-LB. French military spacecraft was built by the University of Surrey, England, and Alactel Espace. While collisions of large objects in space are rare, the possibility is of increasing concern. Damage to the Cerise satellite is still being assessed (AW&ST).
The fourth launch of Japan's new H-2 rocket has been booked to carry the largest scientific observatory Japan has ever developed. The Advanced Earth Observation Satellite (Adeos-1) will weigh 7,800 lb. at liftoff. The Jan. 17 launch from the Tanegashima Space Center will put the craft into a Sun-synchronous orbit (AW&ST).
The space population continues to stand at 3: two Russian and one American sojourners.
Your comments, corrections and additions to space frontier developments are welcome.
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