Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #17

Frontier Status Report #17

September 27, 1996

Dale M. Gray


The shuttle Atlantis docked with space station Mir on September 18. Both crews quickly got busy transferring food, water, equipment, and experiment results. On Monday September 23, the shuttle separated from Mir with Shannon Lucid on board and John Blaha remaining on the station. Despite problems with one of its three APUs, Commander Bill Readdy and Pilot Terry Wilcutt fired Atlantis' braking rockets on Thursday sending the shuttle on a hour-long descent to Kennedy Space Center runway 15 - completing its 10 day mission. It also marked the end of Shannon Lucid's record 188 days in space. Although she originally was going to leave the shuttle flat on her back, she decided that she could walk out of the vehicle. She is now the toast of the town, the center of attention of not only a small army of doctors monitoring her readaptation to gravity, but also her family, NASA officials including Dan Goldin and even President Clinton who gave her a ten pound box of M&Ms. The other five shuttle astronauts rested overnight at KSC before returning to Houston on Friday (FLATODAY).

NASA is also investigating an unusual erosion of insulation in the nozzle of the right solid-fuel rocket booster used to help propel Atlantis into orbit. Inspection revealed that an additional three-eighths of an inch of the carbon nozzle material was eaten away by hot rocket gas. The insulation is 1 1/2 inches to 3 1/2 inches thick. Normal about half of insulation is eroded during launches. Also a worker's wrench was found to have been left in the top of one of the boosters. Apparently the wrench did no damage (FLATODAY).


The shuttle Atlantis delivered the Mir Auxiliary Sensor Unit (MASU) to Mir station. This is part of the McDonnell Douglas Aerospace's Mir Structural Dynamics Experiment (MiSDE). The device will attempt to determine how the Mir Space Station and Space Shuttle respond to structural forces. Over a one-year period, the MASU will measure structural vibration caused by key events such as the impact of the Shuttle docking with Mir or the firing of the space vehicles' positioning thrusters. Scientists hope to be able to find the accuracy of mathematical models used to predict structural loads and stress for large spacecraft such as the International Space Station (FLATODAY).

Meanwhile, US Astronaut John Blaha is quickly adjusting to life aboard Mir. An early fluff piece on his reactions stated that he found it did not smell bad as expected and that it was more cluttered than the simulators. He was also impressed by the large volume of the station (FLATODAY).


While work on the US Node #1 and the Russian FGB energy block appears to be heading back toward schedule, another key element has become problematic. The $200 million Russian Service Module, which is the third component to be launched has fallen 3 months behind schedule. The 20 ton module was to be launched in April 1998. It would link with the FGB and Node #1 and then provide propulsion and attitude control. Because work is so far behind the U.S. has laid backup plans to replace it with a new U.S. vehicle - possibly one derived from the secret design for CIA/Lockheed Martin KH-11-type reconnaissance satellites. While the shell of the Russian module is near schedule, the avionics and other systems are lagging. The Lockheed bus, minus its reconnaissance systems, has the same type of maneuvering and attitude control capability as the Russian Service Module would provide (AW&ST).


A "Proton-K" was launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakstan on Thursday September 26. The launch was delayed one day before successfully orbiting a Russian TV and communication satellite named "Express". The satellite will provide long-range telephone communications and transmit radio and television programs. It is the first of a series of satellites slated to replace the 12 aging Gorizont satellites. The new satellite will provide more services at an increased transmission rate and is expected to function up to seven years. This is the seventh successfully flight of the Proton-K this year (FLATODAY).


The European Space Agency has announce the next flight of the Ariane 5 system will take place in April of next year and will be followed by a third flight in September. The April launch will carry only two dummy payloads and an amateur radio satellite (FLATODAY).


Wednesday, September 25, Japan successfully launched a small sounding rocket that rose 125 miles into the air and then splashed down in the Pacific 14 minutes, 20 seconds after launch. The craft carried experiments on the growth of colloidal crystals, heat transfers and several metals. Although delayed several times, the flight and separation of payload was normal. This is the fifth TR-1a launch (FLATODAY).

"Japan satellite systems will buy its third consecutive HS-601 from Hughes for its JCSAT series. The satellite, dubbed JCSAT-5, is slated to be launched by an Ariane 4 in late 1997 or early 1998. The spacecraft will have 32 active Ku-band transponders, two octagonal communications antennas and two wings with four solar panels each to provide 5000 w power" (AW&ST).


Hughes Electronics as agreed to by 71 percent of PanAmSat in a $3 billion cash and stock deal. PanAmSat has been up for sale since its founder Rene Anselmo died in April. The new company operating under the name of PanAmSat will have 14 Geosynchronous satellites providing Direct TV and other services and will be second in size only to Intelsat. For those interested in investing, Hughes is owned by General Motors Corp. (AP, FLATODAY).

Kistler Aerospace and Aerojet are progressing on plans to modify Russian NK-33 rocket engines for use as the first and second stages of Kistler's new K-1 launch vehicle. A NK-33 engine has previously been successfully tested by Aerojet. Twelve of 70 NK-33s contracted from N.D. Kuznetsov Joint Stock Company Scientific-Technical Complex have been delivered to Aerojet's Sacramento plant in late August. Early next year, the first engines will be modified by Aerojet with a gimbal block for thrust vectoring, new wiring harnesses and circuitry, and electromechanical valve actuators. Kistler Aerospace is expected to use four modified engines in each K-1 launcher -- three engines for the first stage and one in the second. Both stages, deploying parachutes and airbags, are expected to be recovered and reused for up to 30 launches. The expected market for the launch service is low and medium orbit constellation satellite networks (AW&ST).


Expect the new global voice communications frontier to open in mid-1998. Motorola has completed the integration of the first three Iridium satellites. The 1,500-lb. satellites are scheduled to be launched on a Delta 2 in November or December from Vandenberg AFB, Calif. as part of Iridium Inc's $3.4 billion dollar communication system. The 66 satellite system (with 7 spares) orbiting at 420 nautical miles will provide mobile voice communications anywhere on the globe. The Chandler, Arizona factory is expected to turn out satellites at a rate of one every 5 days by next year. These satellites will be launched on Delta 2s, Russian Protons and Chinese Long March rockets. Meanwhile, Iridium's competitors are also active. Loral's first GlobalStar satellite is slated to be completed in January. The first four of this constellation will launch in August on a Delta 2. Both Iridium and Loral expect to be on-line in 1998. Other competitors include the Hughes built ICO Global Communications system slated to go on-line in 2000 and the TRWOs Odyssey venture which is plagued by financial and legal problems (AW&ST).


President Clinton has released his new space policy. This features a new commitment to utilizing private sources for space services to save money; a free trade policy to allow US companies to obtain launch services abroad; a robotic presence on Mars by year 2000; a limit of NASA's human activity to LEO and the ISS for the foreseeable future; and a reaffirmation of the ISS as a vehicle of international cooperation (FLATODAY). This may prove to be an interesting benchmark for the space frontier as business interests take the forefront in space development.


Lawyers continue their movement into the space frontier. Recently, a federal judge dismissed a $1.5-billion lawsuit brought against Comsat Corp. by PanAmSat Corp. when it was ruled "PanAmSat did not have adequate evidence to support its charges that Comsat, the U.S. signatory to Intelsat, had violated antitrust law and engaged in predatory pricing. PanAmSat, the first private company to offer global satellite communications services, charged in the 1989 lawsuit that Comsat had conspired with other companies to suppress or eliminate PanAmSat. Comsat strongly denied the allegations" (AW&ST).

Degraded performance of AsiaSat-2Os Ku-band transponders has prompted Asia Satellite Telecommunications Co. to seek a claim for insurance that could be worth up to $58 million (AW&ST).

The space population stands at three. With the safe landing of the 6 astronauts aboard Atlantis, only two Russian sojourners and a US sojourners remain in orbit in Mir.

Index for Frontier Status Report 1996

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