Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #14

Frontier Status Report #14

September 9, 1996

Dale M. Gray

This had been a very exciting week on the space frontier. The existing Telecommunication frontier has entered into a new phase as competing major players begin to radically drop rates. The Russian crew rotation of MIR has been completed as STS-79 prepares for the American crew rotation despite weather problems. In addition to developments on the EELV system, ground based technology is now catching up with the specialized needs of space applications. Mexico, Italy and Brazil have also been active in the frontier. Galileo is now set for its visit with Ganymede despite a computer problem during a course correction burn.

Satellite direct TV - - Increased competition in the satellite direct TV industry has lead to a substantial reduction in the rates charged consumers for their services. Last month EchoStar cut the cost of their home system from $499 to $199. In response DirecTV has reduced the cost of their 18 inch receiver dish system from $599 to $399 and will offer its programming for only $160 instead of the previous $360. US Satellite Broadcasting has begun offering $200 worth of coupons to anyone who buys a DSS system. The satellite TV industry has 5.3 million household subscriber as compared to the 67 million served by cable (Bloomberg Business News).

The importance of this decrease in rates and costs is linked to the maturation of this frontier. In early stages of frontiers, goods and money flow into the frontier as players try to monopolize resources and thereby reap windfall profits. Concurrent with the development of the resources and local infrastructure is an effort to reduce transportation costs thereby increasing profits. In most frontiers, the resources, infrastructure development caps about the same time that transportation problems are solved. In the race to corner the market, several players usually hit the under fed markets at the same time. This results in radical drops in the price of the frontier based resource being sold. Classical examples include cattle in the 1870s, calculators in the 1980s. The recent drop in satellite broadcast TV rates follows this model closely. If this frontier continues to follow the model, rates will continue to fall forcing the development of new technology to gain an edge on competition. The change also marks the end of potential wind-fall profits from this frontier and the advent of profits consistent with a steady state civilization. The radical price cuts also mark the end of cable TV dominance of the market, much as calculators came to replace mechanical adding machines (Dale Gray Frontier Model).


Scheduled to launch no earlier than September 14 because of range conflicts, STS-79 now faces an unprecedented second hurricane roll-back. While hurricane Edouard went far north of KSC, hurricane Fran appears to be heading for a Georgia - South Carolina landfall. Earlier estimates placed the path of the storm intersecting with Florida. While preparations for launch are continuing, conditions are being monitored for a possible roll-back. The 9 day supply and crew rotation mission to MIR will have a 10 minute launch window on Saturday September 14 (FLATODAY).


Boeing has announced the successful test firing of a shuttle main engine that has been "splashed down". The six minute test stand firing produced 375,000 pounds of thrust equivalent to an actual firing of the system. The engine was throttled between 65 and 100 percent of its rated capacity. The engine had previously been placed in a water-tight propulsion module and dropped twice by crane into fresh water. The program was also slated to drop a parachute equipped inert engine into salt-water from a helicopter at an altitude of 4,000 feet (FLATODAY; AW&ST).


After undocking on September 2, Soyuz TM-23 returned Claudie-Andre Deshays, Yury Onufrienko and Yury Usachev to earth 60 miles southwest of the city of Akmola in Kazakstan, near Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome. This completes the Russian crew rotation. American Shannon Lucid will be rotated during the STS-79 flight of Atlantis. The station will now reconnect with a Progress supply ship that has been station keeping. Following the docking, propellant will be transferred and the Progress propulsion system used to push the station into a slightly higher orbit. This is the first such redocking of a supply vehicle (ITAR-Tass news agency; FS13).


After reports of a second pressure test failure of the Node #1, Boeing announced the Space station segment successfully reached 22.8 PSIG on Thursday August 29. The U.S. laboratory module successfully passed its pressure test on August 25. After its second unsuccessful test the Node #1 computer model was altered to more accurately reflect real conditions. Changes based on the improved model were made which allowed the Node to pass its last test (FLATODAY).


On August 29, a Russian Molniya-M rocket was scheduled to launch from the Plesetsk space port. The Molniya is a variation of the successful Soyuz rocket. The rocket will lift three satellites. "The Interbol-2 satellite was manufactured by a team of specialists from 20 countries, including Russia. The Czech-made Magion-5 is linked to Interbol-2. The third satellite is Argentine's Microsat which has its own research programme. Interbol and Magion will be placed in orbit to study effects of the magnetosphere on Earth. Microsat's function is remote probing of Earth. This is Argentine's first satellite which is to usher it into the club of space powers". It has not been reported if the satellites were successfully launched (FLATODAY).


Between September 3 and 5, the Russian Lavochkin company will launch Unamsat-B. Built by Mexican engineers at a cost of $120,000 US dollars, the satellite is a 28 x 28 centimeter cube which weighs 10.7 kilograms and carries 600,000 active transistors and 2,800 mechanical parts. The satellite is a twin of the Unamsat-1 which was launched on March 28, 1995 from Russia's Plesetsk space center. The earlier satellite was destroyed after the rocket exploded after launch (FLATODAY).


On Wednesday August 28, it was reported that Brazil launched a Sonda II rocket from their Natal space center in the northeastern part of the country. The 4.5 meters long 383.5 kilograms rocket splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean after reaching an altitude of 87.4 kilometers (55 miles). The Sonda II system was last launched two years ago (FLATODAY).


Despite cut-backs in the space budgets of other European countries, Italy is planning on increasing its spending from $625 million per year to nearly $1 billion. "the Italian Defense Ministry recently initiated the Satellite Italiano di Communicazione Reservate et Allarmi (Sicral) military communications system, valued at about $460 million. Sicral, slated to be injected into orbit in 1999, is being developed by an industrial consortium comprising Alenia Spazio, BPD Difeza e Spazio and Nuova Telespazio." Italy is also considering developing their own booster, possibly in conjunction with other countries. Because most of the budget increase reflects internal development, Italy's contribution to the ESA is not expected to increase (AW&ST).


An off the shelf motor has been selected as part of the upcoming Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF) being developed by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Laboratory's High Energy Group. The commercially developed step motors will be used in place of expensive custom built motors at a substantial savings. The motors met the requirements of operating in a vacuum of 10-7 Torr (AW&ST). This is an example of how ground-based technological advances are lowering the cost of operating in space.


Galileo recently performed a critical orbit trim while in a safe mode with only one of its two command and data subsystems computers operating. While the procedure had been practiced on the ground, it was the first such to be conducted by the space craft. Galileo went into safe mode after it determined new data compression software was taking too long to execute. The new software has been onboard for three months and has resulted in a greater retrieval of data than anticipated. The orbit trim burn was necessary to prepare for the September 6 flyby of Ganymede (AW&ST).

The population of the space frontier now stands at three: two Russian sojourners and an American sojourner. The population decreased by three this past week with the completion of the Russian crew rotation on MIR and the return to earth of a visiting French researcher.

As always, your comments, additions and corrections are actively sought.


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