Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #16

Frontier Status Report #16

September 17, 1996

Dale M. Gray

While the launch of Atlantis to Mir dominates the news, there has been activity in several other frontier camps. Advances in technology will allow the FCC to license a new constellation of satellites in the telecommunication camp. A new launch company has formed and a new frontier is preparing to open in December. The launch of the Delta 2 on September 12th was the 10th major rocket launch in just 2 weeks. Exciting times!!


- The shuttle Atlantis launched at 4:54 EST on Monday September 16. After three trips to the launch pad, the final countdown went smoothly. The only pre-launch problem was with a pH indicator in a fuel cell that produces both power for the shuttle and drinking water for the crew. The indicator was later determined to me a normal reading for a new unit. Of greater concern, after a successful launch one of the three Auxiliary Power Units (APUs) had an underspeed shutdown that hadn't been seen before. For a time, it looked like a minimum duration mission would be called for. However, after review of the problem, STS-79 has been cleared for a full 10 day mission and now is pressing on with its two fully functional APUs. It is scheduled link up with Mir on Wednesday night. In addition to Shannon Lucid's replacement John Blaha, the shuttle also carries commander Bill Readdy, copilot Terry Wilcutt, and mission specialists Tom Akers, Jay Apt and Carl Walz.


- Following Wednesday's docking with Atlantis, the two crews will begin to transfer 4,600 pounds of food, water, clothes, equipment and other supplies to the station and 2,200 pounds of experimental samples and Mir gear back to the shuttle for return to Earth. Following the Russian tradition, Lucid will join the Atlantis crew and John Blaha will become a member of the Mir crew when their custom fit seats are removed and fitted respectively into the Russian Soyuz capsule. The seats are specially made for each station crew member to assure safe return to Earth should there be an emergency. Although Lucid over-stayed her original plans by 6 weeks, Russian space officials had nothing but high praise for the American astronaut.


- News of the International Space Station's troubles appear to be echoing ever wider. Several national articles have detailing Boeing's problems with Node 1. Having failed at least two pressure tests, the node finally passed 1.5 times pressure, but only after putting the project 6 months behind schedule and $100 million beyond budget. The Russians are similarly behind on their Functional Energy Block. Less than 10 percent of the Russian's space station funds have been released. While delays and overruns are the norm with past projects, NASA made promises to Congress that this station would be on time and on budget.


- Certification tests have recently concluded at the Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL of a full-scale, but shortened version of the new Aluminum - Lithium (AlLi) tank for use on the shuttle. While the test tank is full diameter, it is only 40 feet long instead of 154 feet. The stronger and lighter material will allow 7,500 pounds extra cargo to be placed in orbit. This savings is critical to boost several components of the ISS. Critics of the program point out that because the test tank is not truly full scale, unforeseen problems may result when a full-sized tank is launched. The AlLi technology was developed in Russia, but testing of the American application has been underway since February (FLATODAY).


- A McDonnell Douglas Delta II rocket was launched at 4:49 a.m. Thursday September 12 from Cape Canaveral Air Station. The rocket carried a replacement Global Positioning Satellite (GPS). The Delta has to date successfully lifted all 24 original GPS satellites and in March of 1996 launched the first replacement. The launch was dedicated to American POWs and MIAs. In addition to its many military and commercial uses, the GPS system was instrumental in 1995 in locating and recovering downed Air Force pilot Scott O'Grady in Bosnia. The Rockwell/Boeing/USAF Navstar global positioning system spacecraft will be maneuvered into Slot-2 of the GPS Plane - a 10,900-naut. mile orbit (FLATODAY; AW&ST).


- Last week's launch of the GE-1 satellite on an Atlas 2A marked the first use of LockMart's advanced A2100 satellite design. The system utilizing advanced satellite operational software for additional redundancy will bring the satellite on line in a record 30 days. The system, previously used only in advanced military satellites, will also ease the changeover from analog to digital signal. GE-1 will be used for television distribution services with primarily with NBC. This week the satellite will reach a spot over the Galapagos Islands where it will provide service to the 50 states and the Caribbean (AW&ST).


- Last week the first new Titan 4B advanced heavy lift booster was rolled out at Cape Canaveral. The Lockheed Martin rocket is scheduled to launch around Jan. 20. It will be lifting a missile warning satellite for the USAF TRW Defense Support Program (AW&ST).


- Three years after the failure of the Mars Observer, the Mars Surveyor is nearly ready for its November launch. The new spacecraft will contain 6 of 8 instruments on Observer. These were drawn from flight spares or spare components. By using new ultra-lightweight materials and a new aero-braking technique, the craft weight has been trimmed from the 2,250 Kg of Observer to a mere 1,060 Kg. which can be launched from a Delta 2. The project cost $154 million for the spacecraft and instruments, and 30 days operation after launch. Most amazing of all, the project is expected to be $4-5 million under budget (AW&ST).


- China recently released the cause of the February 15 failure of their Long March 3B rocket launched from the Xichang space center. While China admits to 6 dead from falling debris, an Israeli engineer estimated that the loss of life was much greater. After 2 seconds, the inertial reference in the rocket's control system produced incorrect information that was sent to the computer-driven control system. The incorrect information may have resulted from a lack of power output for the platform's mobile cycle stable recirculating loop. The rocket crashed 22 seconds after launch against a hill 1.85 kilometers from the launch site. The unprecedented open discussion of the cause of the crash is part of China's efforts to restore the credibility of their launch services (FLATODAY; AW&ST).


- Starsem, a French-Russian space launch company, plans to inject its first payload into low-Earth orbit in mid-1998 with an SL-4 type Soyuz booster. The joint venture is aiming to compliment lower end of the ESAs Ariane 5 payload range and help capture a greater portion of the expanding heavy payload market. The company hopes for 5 - 16 launches per year (AW&ST).


- EarthWatch Inc.'s "EarlyBird" satellite is currently scheduled for launch in late December on a Russian Cosmos 3M booster. The satellite will be able to resolve 3 meter objects on earth, the best currently available commercial resolution is 10 meters. Two satellites with higher resolution will follow beginning in 1998. The company, the first to receive government permission to sell higher resolution satellite images in 1993, hopes to dominate the new industry projected to produce $2.6 billion annually by the turn of the century. The company completed a $70-million, privately placed stock offering with Morgan Stanley in April to help fund its development efforts (AW&ST).


- As with mining camps of old, new technology breaths new life into established frontiers. Advances in the antenna and solid-state microwave technologies over the last 5-10 now make it possible to use high-frequency radio bands prone to interruptions caused by atmospheric conditions. As a result, the 40 - 50 GHz bandwidth is becoming available for commercial satellite use. Motorola has plans for a $6.4-billion network of 72 satellites. The 2,500-lb. satellites would be placed into 12 planes of six satellites each. The relatively low circular orbit of 729 naut. miles would allow businesses to rapidly send a large volume of data to receivers equipped with a 1.5 meter dish (AW&ST).


- "Ten new commercial communications, military and science spacecraft -- including a GE Americom vehicle that is one of the most advanced satcoms ever built -- are undergoing orbital checkout after a rapid series of launches on board seven different Russian, European and U.S. boosters. The flights show the busy pace of launch operations around the world. The new missions were launched during only a 14-day period and have a value of about $700 million." (AW&ST). The population of the frontier has grown to 9. This includes: two Russian sojourners in Mir: one American sojourner preparing to leave Mir, one American sojourner on Atlantis preparing to stay at Mir and 5 additional visiting crew of the shuttle Atlantis.

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


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