Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #19

Frontier Status Report #19

October 9, 1996

Dale M. Gray

It seems that all the major players are stepping up their plans for the space frontier. Little wonder when as John Perkins, president of Hughs Communications stated during the recent Space Coast Launch Conference, "Today, with virtually each new satellite we launch, whole new industries are created." Meanwhile exploration of the space wilderness continues with several milestones for exploration programs.


Replacement of two windows on Columbia have placed the shuttle back on schedule for its early November launch. The shuttle is scheduled for a 16 day flight that features the release and retrieval of two satellites - one a factory for making semi-conductors and the other to collect information on distant stars. A spacewalk on the flight will test tools and techniques needed for the construction of the International Space Station (Flatoday).


The two Russian cosmonauts are busy conducting observations of solar and galactic flares using an X-ray spectrometer. At the same time they themselves are being subject to medical checks to determine the effectiveness of medical training. U.S astronaut John Blaha has been working on several experiments: the Binary Colloidal Alloy Test experiment (BCAT),which studies the long-term behavior of crystal alloys made from two separate materials that normally don't mix with each other; the Biotechnology System (BTS) which uses a rotating vessel to suspend cartilage cells from a cows knee in a low gravity, stationary environment, allowing them to grow and develop. The experiment will investigate long-term on-orbit cell growth in the microgravity environment of space. Blaha will also be working with the green house and monitoring changes to the skeletal muscle performance of all three Mir crew members. Maintenance of the heating system is scheduled (Flatoday).


On Monday October 7, Boeing announced the formation of an international operations and utilization team of five leading contractors involved in the International Space Station. The team will work on ways to improve the ways NASA and its international partners manage and use the station once it is in orbit. Team members include representatives from Boeing, Alenia Spazio of Italy, Daimler-Benz Aerospace AG of Germany, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. of Japan, and Spar Aerospace of Canada. A Russian team member will be added shortly (Flatoday).


Russia appears to be on the verge of launching Mars-96, their own robotic mission to Mars. The US will also be launching two robotic missions in the coming months. Russia had planned on sending their 6 ton probe as early as 1994, but was delayed due to funding problems. The probe is scheduled to be launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakstan on Nov. 16 and will land on Mars in October, three months after the US Pathfinder lands. The probe will deploy "two 65-kg. (140-lb.) probes -- each about the size of a U.S. Sidewinder missile -- designed to penetrate the planet's surface and collect data on its soil, and two autonomous, 50-kg. (110-lb.) small lander science stations -- each about the size of a beach ball -- with imaging and meteorology instruments" These devices are currently nearing completion at the Lavochkin Scientific and Production Assn. outside Moscow. This is the first Russian deep space mission in 8 years (AW&ST; Flatoday).


The loss of the first Ariane 5 in early June has delayed qualification of the program by a year and caused a $336-million cost hike. As a result, ESA will depend on Ariane 4s exclusively for commercial flights in 1997 and enhancements to the Ariane 5 system will be postponed. The cost hike is caused by the loss of the first rocket and the necessity of adding a third qualification flight. The two remaining qualification flights will occur in April and September of 1997. Barring additional problems the first commercial Ariane 5 flight will not occur until early 1998. After qualification of the booster, the Ariane 4 rate of 10 to 12 flights per year will diminish while Ariane 5 flights will increase from 3 - 4 in 1998 to 5 -6 in 1999 (AW&ST).


The 10 Japanese space ministries and agencies are seeking $3.57 billion budget for a variety of 1997 space programs. This is a 6.5% increase over the 1996 budget. The Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) International Space station and advances in H-2 launcher design are the largest items at $1.3 billion. An additional $168.8 million is sought for the Hope-X mini-shuttle program. The Hope will be launched by the agency's H-2 booster to fly station resupply missions. Reentry and automatic landing tests of the Hope prototype vehicles were conducted over the past year. While the tests were successful, one of the HOPE vehicles was lost at sea. The H-2a program will receive $481.6 million to develop the evolved H-2 with strap on solid rockets. The budget vote will be in December with the new fiscal year beginning in April (AW&ST).

Japan is also looking to enter the mini-sat business. Plans are now under consideration to piggy-back up to four small satellite "cubes" could be added to the second stage of an H-2 booster. Another venture would develope a 5 foot high 1,100 lb rocket to boost mini-sats (AW&ST).


The UK Defense Ministry recently awarded Arianespace the contract to launch the last of 6 Skynet 4F communications satellites built by Matra Marconi Space. Launched in late 1999, the satellite has a design life of 7 years. The 3,330-lb. (1,500-kg.) spacecraft will provide communications links to land, sea and airborne terminals, including submarines. With 1.5 kw of power, it is the third Skynet to be built to enhanced standards that include steerable antennas to support SHF spot beam communications and an improved antijamming capability. Launch is set for the second half of 1999 (AW&ST).


The McDonnell Douglas Delta Launch team recently won the George M. Low Space Transportation Award for 1996. McD/D was awarded for "the achievement of making the Delta the most reliable U.S. Launch Vehicle, as demonstrated by a record 49 consecutive launches without failure and 224 out of 237 since 1960." The Delta continues to evolve from its beginnings as the Thor ICBM in the 1950s. The company can now launch as many as 18 Deltas per year from Florida and California and has made 16 successful commercial launches (Flatoday).


While Hughes Communications has a backlog of 40 satellites awaiting rides to orbit, launching from Cape Canaveral has become increasingly problematic. At the recent Space Coast Launch Conference at the Melbourne Airport Hilton, satellite makers, rocket-builders and military officials gathered to discuss America's commercial launch industry. Discussions centered around red-tape, hassles and delays from Shuttles, military exercises and weather. It was concluded that because of these problems business will be increasingly reluctant to utilize Florida's Space Coast. The military is aware of the problems and is working to improve conditions. Private launch services are also working to improve the efficiency of their rockets. However, it seems inevitable that launch services will begin to migrate away from Florida's shores (Flatoday).


After signing up 3 million subscribers, Loral Chief Bernard Schwartz has calculated his company's Globalstar venture can turn a profit. This represents only 30% of the system's capacity. The satellite-based system will provide mobile voice communications anywhere on the globe. Wholesalers will be asked to sell the service for 65 cents per minute plus any toll charges for use of terrestrial lines (AW&ST).


On Monday October 7, NASA published a notice in the National Register of its intent to begin the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the X-33 rocket program. Meetings will be held beginning next week in California, Utah, Montana and Washington (Flatoday).


The design review for the Deep Space 1 probe has recently been completed by Spectrum Astro Inc. The craft will be the first of NASA's New Millennium program. To be launched mid-1998, Deep Space 1 will fly by near-Earth asteroid McAuliffe in 1999 and the comet West-Kohoutek-Ikemura in 2000 (AW&ST).


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

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