Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #18

Frontier Status Report #18

- October 3, 1996

Dale M. Gray

While physical activity on the frontier has slowed from the frantic pace of satellite launches of August and the shuttle flight of September, there can be no doubt that the frontier is in full swing. Windfall profits and rapid fire business deals, the true measure of a valid frontier, have reached new heights.


Last week a wrench was found in the top of one of the Atlantis Solid Rocket Boosters. Although no damage was done, the wrench caused some concern that the budget cuts were causing quality control problem. This week a second wrench was found in the shuttle. The tiny two inch wrench apparently has been in the shuttle for several flights since it does not have the laser-imbedded markings that have been placed on all shuttle tools for several years. Because of is small size and its location in the rear compartment of the shuttle's main engine, it is extremely unlikely to have caused any damage (FLATODAY).

The next shuttle launch will be the Columbia which is scheduled for launch on November 8, carrying the Wake Shield Facility - 3 and ORFEUS-SPAS -2. Astronauts Cockrell, Rominger, Jernigan, Jones, and Musgrave will be in space 16 days.


In an effort to get more for less, on September 30, the United Space Alliance (USA) and NASA signed a six-year, $7 billion base contract that could with extensions total an estimated $12 billion over ten years. The contract consolidates much of the ground processing and in-flight operations of the Shuttle. USA is composed of Lockheed-Martin Space Operations and Rockwell Space Operations Co. The contract replaces as many as 12 smaller contracts and may be extended to include 16 more contracts. These contracts cover both shuttle operations and those associated with construction and operation of the International Space Station (FLATODAY).


On October 1, McDonnell Douglas dedicated a new assembly and testing building in Huntington Beach, Calif. The five-story-high, 22,500-square-foot building will support the assembly, systems installations, outfitting and verification testing of components for the International Space Station (ISS). Although the first flight of station hardware is over a year away, work will begin on a McDonnell Douglas-built pressurized mating adapter in two weeks.

On the recent Shuttle mission, experimental re-entry maneuvers were successfully accomplished. Five programmed flight test inputs (PTIs) successfully banked the shuttle 5 - 20 degrees per second using only computer controlled elevons. The shuttle was moving from Mach 16 to Mach 3. The use of this system will allow a savings of several hundred pounds of thruster propellant, making the weight available for lifting the ISS (AW&ST).


Aerospatiale plans to combine its Space & Defense and Missile divisions. The combined effort is expected to have annual sales estimated at $2.55 billion and about 9,000 employees. While missile sales are shrinking, the company has increased sales in Ariane 4 and 5 boosters and in satellites. Arianespace has contracted for 14 Ariane 5s and is negotiating for as many as 80 more. In 1995, the Space & Defense Div. had sales of $1.71-billion and $2.52 billion in booked orders (AW&ST).


As previously reported a Titan IV is being prepared for launch at Vandenberg AFB sometime in the next few weeks. The payload is suspected to be an improved CIA / USAF Lacrosse satellite or an advanced KH-11 electro-optical imaging spacecraft. The half billion dollar Lacrosse radar is capable of seeing battle damage as small a 1 meter or less through smoke, night or clouds. Two Lacrosse satellites currently stationed over Iraq were instrumental in determining when Iraq began to repair bombed airfields and were able to confirm when the repairs were halted. Within five years the US military hopes to actually be able to target missiles using information from synthetic aperture radars (SAR) in orbit. While the data used in the current system is at least 6 hours old, the new system will use only one hour old to lock onto even recently moved targets (AW&ST).


Following in the wake of last week's merger of Hughes Communication Galaxy with PanAmSat, Loral Space and Communications has announced it will acquire AT&T's SkyNet Satellite Services for a reported $712.5 million in cash. Skynet will give Loral's satellite network plans a boost with its 4 orbiting satellites. However, it should be noted that two of the satellites are nearing the end of their lifetimes, with a replacement to be launched next year. Loral plans to spend an additional $700 to $800 million developing their satellite network to compete with Hughes. Loral manages and owns majority interest in both GlobalStar and SpaceSystems/Loral (AW&ST).


While market professionals are having problems assessing the growth potential of new space enterprises, several existing companies have showing what kind of returns are possible. PanAmSat which recently merged with Hughes Global network is generating 70% returns as is Direct TV which has been called a "veritable money machine". At the heart of the financial analysts problems is Loral and their GlobalStar venture. Loral will launch 48 LEO satellites for the world-wide telephone GlobalStar network. Although not a single satellite has been launched to date, the company is predicting a 65% return after taxes which will translate into $6-9 billion by 2005 (AW&ST).

The fiscal pundits are correct in exercising caution. From the perspective of a frontier, very few start up enterprises lead to wild profits, some do make a steady profit, a lot break even, but the vast majority lose every nickel invested. Most fortunes are made by the first to enter the field, before there is a track record for the bankers to examine (DMG Frontier model).


After 19 successful years of operation the International Ultraviolet Explorer officially died September 30, when a button was pushed expelling the last of its propellant and draining its battery. While the satellite was still functional, funding had run out and the program was killed to save between $1and $2 million per year. The IUF has been left tumbling in its 26,000 mile orbit - - perhaps to be collected by some future museum of technology (FLATODAY).


The population of the frontier remains at 3. Two Russian sojourners and an American sojourner on MIR.

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